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Reading recommendations on risk management: 4 books to add to your February reading list

Strategies for recognizing, prioritizing and mobilizing solutions for the risks you face in your organization

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This is the second in a year-long series where I share my top risk management reading recommendations. These are the books I review regularly regarding the discipline of risk management and related issues. Each of these gives you hints on how to recognize, prioritize and mobilize solutions for the risks you face in your organization.

My top tip this month is that along with these book recommendations, I also recommend you read the Harvard Business Review, MIT Sloan Management Review, Foreign Affairs, Psychology Today and The Wall Street Journal to keep up with trends and issues of interest. And before you dismiss the Wall Street Journal as only a “business publication,” I can assure you that every day I read something that is directly applicable to public safety operations.

Last month, I shared some tips for making notes and summarizing key points from the books I read. Let me know what works for you and then check out my reading suggestions for February:

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The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

By Nassim Nicholas Taleb

When Donald Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense, he was asked by a reporter what worried him at night. He responded that he was most concerned about the “unknown unknowns.” A lot of people got a laugh out of this phrase, but anyone associated with risk management knew exactly what he was talking about. Dr. Taleb lays it out in great detail and more importantly gives some thoughts on better ways of looking at things so that you can spot the “black swans” in advance. It is truly brilliant work!

Also, pick up his prequel, “Fooled by Randomness.” Not quite as much fun as “The Black Swan,” but still a good read.

The Gray Rhino: How To Recognize And Act On The Obvious Dangers We Ignore

By Michele Wucker

While “The Black Swan” explains how to recognize and act to address the “unknown unknowns” that occasionally pop up and cause us great problems, Michele Wucker explains how difficult it is to address these “unthinkable” events because most of our tragedies are not “black swans” but rather “gray rhinos.” They are very clearly running right at us but for many reasons, we fail to get out of the way and our inaction results in tragedy. A great read with many practical examples.

An Economist Walks into a Brothel: And Other Unexpected Places to Understand Risk

By Alison Schrager

The title caught my eye, but I wondered what my fellow passengers on a plane would think if they saw me reading this book. Would this get me banned by the TSA? Schrager is an economist and she has an interesting take on risk management. If you visit Amazon and read the reviews by Robert Merton, General Stanley McChrystal, Adam Grant and Tyler Cowen (all great writers in their own right), I think you will be impressed. It is a fun read and filled with great stories and observations that will benefit you regardless of occupation.

Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril

By Margaret Heffernan

If you have been to any of my lectures, you are aware of my focus on trying to address the “problems lying in wait” in your organization. Too often, people in the organization are “blind” to these problems. There are a number of reasons why this occurs, and the author of this great book identifies the problems and provides solutions. This is a great work and should be read by all in leadership positions in any organization.

That’s it for this month. Let me know what you think of these books and share your leadership and risk management reading recommendations. Email

Gordon Graham has been actively involved in law enforcement since 1973. He spent nearly 10 years as a very active motorcycle officer while also attending Cal State Long Beach to achieve his teaching credential, USC to do his graduate work in Safety and Systems Management with an emphasis on Risk Management, and Western State University to obtain his law degree. In 1982 he was promoted to sergeant and also admitted to the California State Bar and immediately opened his law offices in Los Angeles.