Wild card (Foresight research)

In decision theory, "wild cards" refer to low-probability, high-impact events. This concept may be introduced into anticipatory decision-making activity in order to increase the ability of organisations 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 foresight information might be inferred.


* Barber, MP. (2004, 2006) 'Wildcards - Signals from a Future near You'; Journal of Future Studies Vol 11 No1 Tamkang University
* Mendonça, S., M.P. Cunha, F. Ruff and J. Kaivo-oja (2006), "Wild cards in the civil aircraft and asset-management industries", forthcomming in "Long Range Planning".
* Petersen, J. (2000) 'Out of The Blue - How to Anticipate Big Future Surprises' Madison Books
* van Notten, P., A.M. Sleegersb, and M. van Asselt (2005), "The future shocks: On discontinuity and scenario development", "Technological Forecasting & Social Change", 72 (2), pp. 175-94.

Arguably the best known work in Wild Cards comes from John Petersen author of 'Out of The Blue - How to Anticipate Big Future Surprises'. Petersen's book articulates a series of events that due to their likelihood to surprise and potential for impact might be considered 'Wildcards'. He defines Wild Cards as 'Low Probability, High Impact events that, were they to occur, would severely impact the human condition'.

Building on Petersen's work, Futurist Marcus Barber developed an additional Wild Cards tool called a 'Reference Impact Grid' (RIG) which helps strategists and risk managers define vulnerabilities within a given system and to then consider what type of event might distabilise that system. Challenging Petersen's hypothesis, his additional thoughts on 'Cascading Discontinuity Sets' removed the idea that Wild Cards ought to be big 'one off' type events to achieve the end result. A Cascading Discontinuity Set can achieve a similar outcome to a one off Wildcard event but does so via a series of smaller, unplanned events that eventually overwhelm the system's ability to cope.

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