FT5 Wild cards

Preparing to meet unexpected futures

When we consider the future, or rather the multiple futures that could unfold, some things are more likely or probable than others. A scenario presents a written and sketched narrative of how the future may unfold in the external environment. It draws on evidence and judgement such as how realistic one imagined future is over another.

We therefore have probable futures, plausible futures, and possible futures. Some things may be possible but not likely and that is where you will find wildcards.

A wild card is an event, not a force or trend. In other words, it occurs at one point in time, rather than over time. It has a low probability in the chosen timeframe, but it is possible. So, if it is not very likely to happen, why should we care about it? Well, a wild card is very impactful. It may be unlikely, but its effect is significant and once it has occurred it cannot be undone.

Although unlikely, a wild card is still imaginable. We may not be able to predict a date for it, but it can be anticipated.

To manage wildcards, we should answer three questions:

  • Can we know what wild cards are?
  • Can we anticipate it happening?
  • Can we plan / is there anything we can do?

Wild cards are described by many futurists as the main source of change for trends and cycles. Wild cards are often seen as the most challenging part of futures studies, as they are key to looking at futures with an open mind.

Although wild cards are often primarily portrayed as negative, they can be both positive and negative.

Additionally, there are black swan events that are impossible to predict, high impact, mostly negative events which are only rationalized after the fact as predictable. We will, therefore, focus on events that can be anticipated such as wild cards.

So, are we trying to prepare for every possible future? No. But we are using wild cards to be more prepared and resilient in general. Wild cards enhance preparedness by making our mindset more flexible when thinking of the events that could occur. We should, therefore, include wild cards in scenario development. After studying this section (video duration 3:36 minutes) you can be more prepared for even unlikely changes.