A wildcard is an unlikely event that has a major significance if it occurs. The terror attack on the World Trade Center and other places in the US on September 11 2001 is a good example of a wildcard. Not many could imagine such an attack and even fewer thought it likely. But clearly it could happen.

Huge consequences

The consequences of the 9/11 terror attacks have been many. The Americans’ view of the surrounding world has changed completely. Where people before 9/11 felt safe enough that they were able to discuss their own missile defense system, and other than that weren’t interested in participating in too many local conflicts in the rest of the world, they woke up afterwards to a world they had to be engaged in if they wanted peace and safety in the US.

American foreign politics, security and defense policies are changed forever and will affect the entire world.

In the future, Americans are forced to consider how people live all over the world and it’s very likely that the US will have to fight and prevent poverty and distress all over the world to achieve peace in the US.

The uncertain future

This example shows, so to speak, all of the hallmarks of a wildcard: It has a low probability, it has huge consequences if it occurs and many choose not to consider the possibility before it happens. When you use wildcards to analyze the future, you do so to uncover the uncertain aspects of the future, those aspects that are not included in scenarios, trend analysis or prognosis. Here’s a few example of very relevant general wildcards:

  • Life expectancy extended to 100 due to medical breakthroughs
  • Russia joins the EU
  • Asian World War
  • Collapse of the family
  • Rechristening of Europe

Choose correctly

Wildcards can be developed around individual companies’ challenges. If, for example, you imagine that children no long want to play with ordinary toys, then it has a significant impact for a number of toy producers. If we stop eating at home, it’ll be tough to be a kitchen manufacturer. The important thing in the method is to pick the correct wildcards and to not mix them up with futures that are fairly likely, since those should be dealt with as prognoses or scenarios.

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