You Are What You Risk by Michele Wucker (Book Review)

Michele Wucker’s book “You Are What You Risk: The New Art and Science of Navigating an Uncertain World” offers a deep dive into the world of personal risk, exploring the different factors that influence our risk perception and our approach to taking risks. In a world where we are constantly being presented with new risks to navigate – whether it’s a pandemic, political unrest, or economic uncertainty – the ability to assess and manage risk is more important than ever.

Michele is a world-renowned expert on risk management and global trends. She is the founder and CEO of Gray Rhino & Company, a strategy consulting firm that helps organizations to identify and tackle challenges that are often neglected despite being highly predictable. With “You Are What You Risk,” Michele draws on her extensive research and personal experience to deliver a work that is both accessible and compelling, providing readers with practical advice and tools that are applicable in a wide range of situations.

Michele has spent many years studying and writing about risk, and her expertise shines through in this book. Her insights and advice are based on years of research and experience, and her writing is both engaging and thought-provoking. She is also the author of “The Gray Rhino: How to Recognize and Act on the Obvious Dangers We Ignore,” another insightful book on risk.

In 2018, her book, “The Gray Rhino,” made headlines when it was included in a list of books spotted on President Xi Jinping’s bookshelf. The inclusion of the book on the shelf was seen as a sign of the Chinese government’s interest in improving its risk management strategies and addressing potential crises before they occur. President Xi himself has spoken about the importance of being prepared for “grey rhinoceros” risks – highly probable but often neglected threats – as well as “black swan” events that are highly improbable but can have devastating consequences. In January 2020, he told senior Communist Party officials that the country must be vigilant against these risks in the face of a complex and sensitive global environment. Xinhua News Agency issued a full statement on his remarks.1

The Chinese edition of “You Are What You Risk: The New Art and Science of Navigating an Uncertain World,” translated by Feng Yi and Zhang Liying, as “Gray Rhino 2: How Individuals and Organizations Dance with Risk,” was published in September 2021 by CITIC Press Group to high praise.

In “You Are What You Risk,” Michele explores the concept of a “risk fingerprint” – a unique set of influences that shape our attitudes toward risk. These influences include our personality, our social context, and our experiences, both good and bad. By understanding our own risk fingerprint, we can better navigate the risks we face in our personal and professional lives.

One of the key insights in the book is that not all risks are bad. While we naturally want to protect ourselves from negative risks, we also need to take chances and stretch ourselves in pursuit of growth and a greater purpose. In many situations, it’s riskier to stay in our comfort zones than it is to act on opportunities that come our way.

Michele offers practical advice for managing our own risks, such as building up our positive risk-taking through practice, and surrounding ourselves with accountability groups to help us stretch. We can also become more “risk-savvy” by recognizing and assessing dangers and opportunities while balancing emotion and reason, and taking smart precautions to avoid being either foolhardy or overly cautious.

Michele writes about risk empathy, which she defines as “the ability to relate to the ways others experience risks and adapt your own behavior to accommodate those needs.” In a time where we are all facing unprecedented levels of uncertainty, risk empathy is more important than ever. She offers readers practical advice on how to cultivate this skill and become more attuned to the needs and concerns of those around us.

Among what sets “You Are What You Risk” apart is Michele’s focus on the role of emotion in our risk decisions. As someone who has worked in the technology industry for many years, I have seen firsthand how important it is to balance logic and rationality with an understanding of the emotional factors that influence our decisions. Michele’s book provides a framework for doing that, by exploring how our emotions and experiences shape our perceptions of risk and our approach to taking risks.

Throughout the book, Michele draws on a wide range of examples, from personal stories to historical events to current events, to illustrate the complex interplay of factors that shape our approach to risk. Her writing is engaging and accessible, making the book a pleasure to read even as it explores complex and nuanced ideas.

You Are What You Risk” is a timely and important book that offers a fresh perspective on how we can manage risk in our personal and professional lives. Michele’s insights and advice are based on years of research and experience, and her writing is both engaging and thought-provoking. Whether you’re a risk-taker or a risk-avoider, this book is sure to offer valuable insights and guidance on how to navigate the risks we all face in our lives. I highly recommend reading it.

P.S. I’m one of the people Michele interviewed for this book. In chapter 9, Michele graciously refers to me as “a brilliant chief technology officer, who has worked for big media corporations and start-ups.” Part of my life story is included in that chapter, along with those of others she interviewed.

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