Join getAbstract to access the summary!


Join getAbstract to access the summary!


How to Anticipate Forcing Events and Wild Cards in Global Politics

Brookings Institution Press,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

How to prepare for those nasty surprises that fortune loves to deliver

Editorial Rating



  • Applicable


“Prediction is very hard,” Yogi Berra supposedly remarked, “especially about the future.” It’s hard to argue with that, but even skeptics must admit that such events as the collapse of the Soviet Union, the East Asian economic crisis of the late 1990s or the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 came as a shock even to most experts. Yet, for all its difficulty, forecasting matters. No one, whether in government or business, wants to be blindsided by oil shocks, declining stocks, environmental crises, global pandemics, natural disasters or any of the other nasty surprises that chance sometimes delivers. Can anything be done, or must humanity merely watch the wheel of fortune spin, hoping for the best? According to this modest book, something can be done. Even when specific predictions are hard, if not impossible, leaders can “plan for surprise” by developing scenarios, boning up on history, overcoming cognitive biases and learning to think about the types of significant disruptions that could arise. While this uneven collection of articles is understandably short on conclusions, getAbstract predicts it will help you think about the unthinkable.


Surprise, Surprise, Surprise

On December 7, 1941, like a damaged fighter plane plunging from the sky, U.S. Navy Admiral Husband Kimmel’s career took a nosedive. It never recovered. Kimmel’s fall didn’t begin merely because Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on that infamous day, crippling the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Rather, his career bombed because Kimmel – the Fleet’s commander – ignored intelligence warnings about the attack. His cryptographers had deciphered Japanese messages describing an assault on the U.S, but Kimmel failed to conclude that the devastating attack would fall on Pacific Fleet Headquarters in Hawaii. History shouldn’t be too hard on Kimmel, however. He wasn’t the only one who failed to heed warnings of a Japanese attack. A U.S. Army officer had written a war game scenario in 1940 describing a similar surprise assault. Military brass ignored the scenario, considering it “so improbable” that it couldn’t be played even as an exercise. The target of the attack in that scenario? The U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Examples of this sort of myopia abound. In 1978, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency confidently declared that Iran wasn’t on the brink of revolution...

About the Author

Editor Francis Fukuyama is the Bernard L. Schwartz Professor of International Political Economy at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.

Comment on this summary