You Are What You Risk: What Different Global Risk Choices Mean for US National Security

January 2022 No Comments

Speaker(s): Wucker, M. (Founder and CEO, Gray Rhino & Company)

Date: 19 January 2022

Speaker Session Summary

SMA hosted a speaker session with Ms. Michele Wucker (Founder and CEO, Gray Rhino & Company) as part of its SMA General Speaker Series. 

Gray rhinos—or threats that actors see coming and openly discuss—are having a strong impact on today’s world. How actors respond to these gray rhinos strongly indicates their willingness to take risks. Ms. Wucker, the author who coined the term gray rhinos, commented that people often misidentify gray rhinos as black swans or elephants. Black swans are the threats that no one sees, while elephants are threats everyone sees, and no one talks about. The concept of a gray rhino has become widely used in the financial sector, but has been increasingly mentioned in other industries, such as healthcare and national security. For a state actor, when and how they respond to a gray rhino shows their national risk fingerprint. Like a real fingerprint, a national risk fingerprint is made up of that actor’s experience with past crises, intrastate culture, and its domestic political environment.

She used an individual’s likelihood of taking precautions relating to the Covid-19 pandemic as an example of how a national risk fingerprint can affect the scope and timing of an actor’s reaction. Ms. Wucker commented that peoples’ worldview has an even larger impact on their risk taking than their experience with the virus. She emphasized that what people are concerned about drives public policy and the reaction to threats. Lloyd’s Register Foundation World Risk Poll was used to show that countries whose population worry the most also have the smallest social security net. Ms. Wucker pointed out that different populations inside and outside of countries perceive different threats as being stronger. This also holds true for industry and product standards.

Speaker Session Recording

To access a recording of the session, please email Ms. Nicole Omundson (

Briefing Materials

Relevant risk communications article:


Submit A Comment