Strategic foresight and warning or more broadly anticipation is a step by step process to anticipate the future in an actionable way. The graphic ideal type process displayed below is the result of more than a decade of work with and about systems of anticipation, from early warning systems to prevent conflicts for aid agencies to …
This article defines and briefly explains the various names and labels given to activities and practices anticipating or foreseeing the future. Indeed, from risk management to Strategic Foresight and Warning (SF&W) the field of anticipation includes many perspectives and practices centred on different themes. Meanwhile, various actors use different names for SF&W, or very similar approaches. It is thus important to clarify what various labels and names mean, even if borders between categories are often fuzzy.
Since Nassim Nicholas Taleb published his bestseller The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable back in 2007, “Black Swans” and “Black Swans events” have become part of everyday language.
They are used as a catchphrase to mean two different things. First, as was the case in the Brookings interesting interactive “briefing book” Big Bets and Black Swans: Foreign Policy Challenges for President Obama’s Second Term, “black swans” represent high impact, low probability events, what is also known as wild cards.[i]
Second, “black swans” refer to events that could absolutely not be predicted, as, for example for the Economist in ”The prediction games: Our winners and losers from last year’s edition”. Unfortunately, in this case, the label “black swans” excuses foresight errors. It tends to stop explanations and evaluation. Similarly, some will make statements along the line of “oh, but there is no point to do any foresight (or futures work or forecast), did you not read Taleb’s Black Swan? One cannot predict or foresee anything.”
This is a rather bold statement, especially when one seeks to anticipate uncertainty and to foresee and warn. We thus need to explore the unpredictability claim further.