Often in scenario planning exercises participants will be asked to build a list of wildcard events. These are low probability events, but if they were to occur they would have a significant impact on the future environment. It is helpful to look at the key certainties (assumptions), key uncertainties (possible variables) and wildcards all together. Such a review will often result in an item moving from one list to another. Either a certainty is judged a variable, or a wildcard is judged not that unlikely an event and hence also worthy of consideration as a variable.

Sessions that are to develop wildcards are often hard to control because participants are tempted to identify those issues which–while truly wildcards—would be very hard for senior managers or decision makers to plan for. Examples of the later would be a meteor hitting the earth, or a visit by extraterrestrials. Please feel free to add to the list of wildcards below.

Weak Signals and Wild Cards

In futures research "weak signals" may be understood as advanced, noisy and socially situated indicators of change in trends and systems that constitute raw informational material for enabling anticipatory action. "Wild cards" refer to low-probability and high-impact events. This concept may be embedded in standard foresight projects and introduced into anticipatory decision-making activity in order to increase the ability of social groups adapt to surprises arising in turbulent business environments. Such sudden and unique incidents might constitute turning points in the evolution of a certain trend or system. Wild cards may or may not be announced by weak signals, which are incomplete and fragmented data from which relevant foresight information might be inferred.

Wildcards out to 2020

  • Dramatic climate change, such that the rate of change of regional or global temperature (up or down) is beyond recent (10,000 years) historical norms.
  • Dramatic change in human lifespan enabled by a medical breakthrough.
  • Mass Terrorism Attack causing 10,000 or more deaths.
  • Nuclear war between regional powers (India-Pakistan, Pakistan/Iran, Iran/Saudi Arabia, etc.)
  • Religious conflicts on a world wide scale after local religious minorities have been interlinked by fundamentalists
  • New concepts for alternative energies allowing the mass storage of solar and wind energy as well as hydropower
  • Concepts for the collection of energy in the universe and ways to continously transmit it to earth

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