Wild Cards and Science Fiction: Free Imagination

Wild cards and science fiction are key foresight components that enrich our imagination and understanding of possible futures. By studying them, you can increase your future preparedness.

February 8, 2021, Shiori Ota, Marianna Mäki-Teeri

As uncertainty about the future increases, wild cards and science fiction are gaining popularity among various organisations to foster future preparedness and visionary thinking. Exploring possible futures supported by free imagination is a cornerstone of versatile foresight practice.   

This is the last part of our Futures Intelligence five-part blog series, which discusses the creation and use of futures intelligence. Read the first part here.

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Science fiction and wild cards are the lowest in objectivity among all the other futures knowledge since they rely less on historical knowledge. The key reason to explore possible futures with the help of free imagination originates from the fact that the future doesn’t exist yet. 

Free imagination - The fourth type of Futures Intelligence


Figure: Free imagination – The fourth type of Futures Intelligence 


By utilising a mixture of original and imaginative thinking, creativity-based foresight methods can help us expand our thinking beyond the probable futures, which are often studied on the basis of quantified historical data and trend extrapolations. 

The future hasn’t happened yet, which means there is an opportunity to design it - our visions and decisions can shape it. Wild cards and science fiction can improve our capacity to imagine and navigate towards preferable futures, while also helping us to prepare for future events that are more sudden, rare and negative by nature. This set of visionary futures knowledge provides the fourth category of futures intelligence - the Free Imagination.  

The ability to detect and understand significant developments that can challenge the status quo is increasingly becoming a key competitive advantage in the VUCA world. While anticipating unexpected events can be challenging, wild cards and science fiction can encourage and help us to envision what developments or changes may shape the future, and what their potential opportunities and risks may be.  



Wild cards are often characterised as sudden, rare, surprising and disruptive discontinuities and shocks that could change the course of the future. They are changes and events that have a low probability of occurrence; but if they do occur, their impacts are significant and even radical.  

The terms "wild cards" and "black swans” are often used interchangeably. However, there is a division between wild cards as “known unknowns” and black swans as “unknown unknowns”. Rare, unknowable, and completely unexpected future events that no expert is aware of are considered black swans.  

On the other hand, it can be debated whether some events, such as 9/11, happened completely unexpectedly with no signals or they just remained ignored and thus seemed “unknown”, but were considered predictable in retrospect.   

Wild cards can be events that we know are possible or are expected to happen at some point based on the existing knowledge. For example, our futurists, along with many other experts, warned about the possibility of a deadly pandemic already before the Covid-19 outbreak.  

Wild cards can have global and local implications. These implications can be positive, negative, or both. They can shake the landscape of “future reality” and challenge the core of who we are, our hopes, fears and expectations. Since they can occur and move fast, there is not always time to prepare, but continuous foresight efforts can make a considerable difference. 

Barriers to identifying wild cards include pre-assumptions, as we tend to ignore or undermine highly impossible or improbable things. Thus, creative thinking and a mindset of considering events beyond contemporary understanding can help familiarise organisations with the idea that there will be discontinuities and rapid, high impact events in the future. 

The ideas about “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns” can be valuable when testing the preparedness of systems and businesses against wild cards and considering possible actions. As the coronavirus pandemic has shown the potential impacts of wild cards on the entire world, wild cards may be taken more seriously in many organisations from now on. 

To design systems as robust and future-proof as possible, a comprehensive process of identifying, analysing, and monitoring is required. For example, continuous monitoring of weak signals can provide clues of wild cards. Using multiple approaches and methods can provide useful information on strong and weak signals, on short-term and long-term, as well as preferable to possible, changes. 

Futures Platform’s content database includes a versatile collection of wild cards that can enhance your foresight work. Examples of the wild cards identified by our foresight analysts include Climate Refugees and Migration, Energy Blackmail and Future without Work. Subscribe now to discover relevant wild cards that can disrupt your future, and start future-proofing your plans. 



Science fiction can be pure imagination of the future technological, societal, environmental, political, economic or scientific advances and changes, and their implications. It provides out-of-the-box and visionary narratives that may become self-realising predictions and prove useful when generating new concepts, schemes, products, and services. Especially sci-fi books, films, and series have been instrumental in this. 

In foresight, science fiction prototyping is one of the practical methods that can be used to reframe and expand our perspectives and to invent or innovate the future. Science fiction prototyping refers to an imaginative short story based explicitly on a science fact to explore its potential future developments, consequences and implications

Science fiction prototyping often involves highly detailed scenario building with vivid narrative, specific settings, action sequences, and characters set in the form of stories. The methodology's focus is to introduce innovations into wider fields ranging from business to science and sociopolitical systems. Professionals from various backgrounds can use science fiction prototyping to explore a wide variety of futures.  

Science fiction can significantly influence technological innovation and scientific research. Many current and emerging technologies such as flying cars, GPS, mobile communicators, robot friends, and teleportation have their roots in science fiction.  

How science fiction can help predict the future | Roey Tzezana | Source: TedEd YouTube

However, good science fiction should explore more than just the technological and scientific field. This means that it also should focus on social, cultural, economic, political, psychological, ethical, and environmental dimensions emerging from humans' varied interactions with technology, as technological developments take place in parallel with the changes in socio-cultural practices.  

There are multiple reasons why the field of foresight is taking further interest in science fiction. For example, it can be used in introducing novel technologies, discovering weak signals or black swans, and studying the social impacts of technologies. It also opens up an opportunity to envision and prototype very complex socioeconomic and political systems of the future.  

The use of science fiction can also bring significant benefits to business innovation. It can empower organisations to challenge their status-quo thinking and spark innovative ideas. Ambitious organisations consider science fiction invaluable; tech giants such as Google, Microsoft, and Apple have employed science fiction writers as consultants.  



In the face of an uncertain and turbulent world, your operational environment is increasingly in flux. Thus, it is vital to conduct continuous monitoring and ad hoc analyses of future opportunities and risks to reduce the level of uncertainty and pave the way for a built-in foresight capability. 

Research has shown that future-prepared firms outperform the average by a 33% higher profitability and by a 200% higher growth. Futures thinking has several benefits that go beyond improved performance numbers, such as fostering stronger organisational collaboration, curiosity and co-creation to enable new, innovative solutions and better ways of doing things. 

Since the low probability of occurrence doesn't mean non-existent probability, it is becoming ever-more important to incorporate wild cards into your foresight work. 

Using Futures Platform, you can easily explore, evaluate and monitor wild cards and other change phenomena together with your team. Start boosting your future preparedness and visionary thinking today with a Futures Platform free trial. 



This is the last article of our five-part blog series. You can learn more about Futures Intelligence by following the links below: 

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