Wild card (foresight)

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In futurology, "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 organizations 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.

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) in 2004 which helps strategists and risk managers define vulnerabilities within a given system and to then consider what type of event might destabilize that system. Challenging Petersen's hypothesis, his additional thoughts on Cascading discontinuity sets' broke away from idea that Wild Cards are always a singular one off event, to introduce the idea that a series of interrelated events might also achieve a similar outcome to the 'big' one-off event. A Cascading Discontinuity Set can achieve a similar outcome to a one off Wildcard via a series of smaller, unplanned events that eventually come together to overwhelm the system's ability to cope. Like the 'big' wild card, the end result is the same - the system no longer has the resources available to it to continue functioning and is overwhelmed.

The idea is similar to the Black swan theory described by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his 2007 book The Black Swan.


  • Barber, MP. (2004, 2006) 'Wildcards - Signals from a Future near You'; Journal of Future Studies Vol 11 No1 Tamkang University
  • Mendonça, Sandro, Cunha, M.P., Kaivo-oja, Jari & Ruff, Frank (2004) Wild Cards, Weak Signals and Organisational Improvisation, Futures. The Journal of Forecasting, Planning and Policy, Vol. 36, Issue 2, pp. 201–218.
  • Mendonca, Sandro, Cunha, Miquel Pina E., Ruff, Frank & Kaivo-oja, Jari (2009) Venturing into the Wilderness: Preparing for Wild Cards in the Civil Aircraft and Asset-management Industries. LRP Long Range Planning. International Journal of Strategic Management 42 (2009), pp. 23–41. .
  • Petersen, J. (2000) 'Out of The Blue - How to Anticipate Big Future Surprises' Madison Books
  • Van Rij, Victor, "New Emerging Issues and Wild Cards as Future Shakers and Shapers" (2013) chapter 5 in ,"Recent developments in foresight studies" ,page 67-92,Editors: Maria Giaoutzi, ‎Bartolomeo Sapio ; Springer Science & Business Media.
  • Taleb, Nassim N (2007) 'The Black Swan - the impact of the highly improbable'; Random House
  • 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.