Anticipating wild cards in world affairs

An article in the latest The Futurist magazine (January-February 2008) summarizes an essay by Peter Schwartz & Doug Randall about wild cards in world affairs. (For futurists, a wild card is something that was thought to be a low-probability, but high-impact, event. Example: the collapse of the Soviet Union.) Some of the “strategic surprises” they see on the horizon that world leaders need to contemplate:

“The warning signs are there if one’s eyes are open to them,” Schwartz & Randall write. “The world’s business and government leaders will be immeasurably better off if they carefully consider how these scenarios could come to pass and act today to create maneuvering room for the radically different world that these game-changing events could create.”

The Futurist summarized “Ahead of the Curve: Anticipating Strategic Surprise,” by Peter Schwartz & Doug Randall, an essay in Blindside: How to Anticipate Forcing Events and Wild Cards in Global Politics, edited by Francis Fukuyama (Brookings Institution, 2007).

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The difference between futurists and regular consultants

Futurist Joe Coates has a chart on his Web site that compares futurists, internal staff planners and mainstream consultants for purposes of business planning. You can check out the chart yourself, but just to give you the flavor, I’ll post a few of the differences:

Futurists: Attention to wild cards and discontinuities
Internal business group: Continuity assumption dominates
Mainstream consultancy: Continuity assumption dominates

Futurists: Speak the unspeakable
Internal business group: Uncongenial thoughts/ideas are suppressed
Mainstream consultancy: May or may not explore the uncongenial

Futurists: Emphasize alternative futures
Internal business group: A single future often dominates
Mainstream consultancy: Weighted towards the experts’ most likely future

Futurists: The future dominates the recommended actions
Internal business group: Past experience and present concerns dominate
Mainstream consultancy: Historical industry data and case studies support the recommendations