August 11, 2022

Wild Cards

Growing up, my family had a tradition of playing games after holiday dinners. Everyone from my youngest cousins to my grandparents would sit around the table with an extra serving of dessert nearby, eager to see who would claim the throne of that year’s ultimate family game night.

Uno was a crowd favorite.

Similar to Crazy Eights, the rules were simple — get rid of all your cards. But what separates Uno from a traditional deck of cards is the addition of 4 cards that can flip the game on its head at any moment — Wild Cards. Playing a Wild Card disrupts the predictable flow, changes the rules, and can even result in an opponent suddenly moving from the lead to the back of the pack. I LOVED playing Wild Cards, and I can still taste the sourness of defeat when someone played one on me.

I was reminded of this game when Ei first started to immerse in the field of Futures Casting about 2 years ago. Our friend and colleague, Kaz Brecher, introduced me to a tool called the “Futures Cone” — a visual representation of all plausible, probable, and preferable possibilities for any given question about the future. The cone, and the volume of all possibilities, expands with time. Within the cone are smaller specks, often placed at random, called “Wild Cards.” Wild Cards represent events that, while still possible, are so fringe and fantastical that we often neglect to include them in future-looking exercises like strategic planning and budget forecasting.

A 2020 Wild Card

Despite long-time warnings from epidemiologists and community health leaders, for me, the pandemic was a Wild Card event. Quite literally overnight, the rules of work, community, and family changed, contradicting all preconceived notions of how the years 2020 - 2022 would likely play out. Those at the height of their careers were dismissed from work, otherwise healthy individuals battled a foreign virus, demand for products never-before-purchased soared, and, at least in my community, 4 and 2-legged family additions skyrocketed.

Today, I often find myself considering the thought of another pandemic. Not in a pessimistic way, but as something that feels plausible. Something I can make a plan for. A report from Duke University predicts that the probability of another similar pandemic is about 2% / year.

What Next?

Now, this begs the question — what Wild Cards am I not thinking about? I spent some time last week pondering what unpredictable things might come next. This exercise forced me to fight the natural, logic-oriented tendencies of my brain. The outcomes were refreshing and sometimes quite entertaining. One of my favorites was the thought of artificial intelligence and machine learning creating so much production efficiency and economic gains that Universal Basic Income replaced personal income tax.

We’re curious — what Wild Cards are you pondering as you look to the future? Share them with us!

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