Foresight: Scenarios vs. Strategies

Chess is a game that does not depend from chance. Every move can be exactly valuated mathematically, and in theory we can calculate the optimal strategy for both colors from any arbitrary position up to the end of the match.

Interestingly there is hardly any “intelligent” chess program. Almost everything that was coded during the last 40 years, solves the match with brute force: just calculating the results for almost every path for a few steps in advance and then choosing a move that is optimal in short term. This works, because the computer can crunch millions of variations after every move. However this can hardly be called strategic.

Regarding foresight in economy, culture, society, etc., we are used to scenarios: we play through all possible developments by changing on parameter at a time. Most prominent is the “Worst Case Scenario”, where we just put all controls of our model to the minimum.

Like in chess, we defeat apparently the most complex problems with this mindless computation. What we will never get are insights on disruptions, epochal changes, revolutions.

Disruptions occur at those points where the curve bends. Mathematically speaking, “bend” means, that the function that describes the development has no derivative at this point, thus it changes its direction spontaneously. If we imagine a car driving along the so far smooth curve, the driver will be caught in complete surprise by the bend in the track.

In reality, these bends almost never happen without some augury. Disruptions evolve by the transposition of processes. We might think of the processes as oscillations, like waves. Not every new wave that adds its influence to the development we have in focus, will cause a noticeable distortion. Many such processes tune into the main waves of the development unrecognized.

Critical are those distortions, new processes, that occur and start to build up with the existing development, like a feedback loop, to finally dominate the development completely.

The art of foresight is to identify exactly these waves that have the potential to build up and break through the system.

We will discuss some examples of this occasionally.