Storm in the early 1990s, when rapid deployment was important, it took fully 6 months to deploy the Abrams tanks. In addition, another aspect of the tanks’ design—night vision that was superior to that of the enemy—allowed the tanks to avoid enemy attack during Desert Storm, making the heavy armor superfluous.

A second example of misdirected planning, based on the assumption that the future would resemble the past, was the creation of the Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Institute in 1977, to tap the natural gas that is found in the oil fields on Alaska’s North Slope. At that time, when experts were predicting oil prices would reach $200 per barrel, parts of the pipeline were built, but after oil prices dropped, it was never completed. (With oil prices now rising, it is possible that the pipeline will be built someday; nevertheless, it is clear that the plans made in 1977 were not appropriate to the future that developed over the following two decades.)

Schwartz’s final example was the U.S. automobile industry in the 1960s, which believed that Americans would always love big cars, that gasoline would continue to be plentiful, and that reliability wasn’t an issue because Americans traded in their cars every two years. Because U.S. auto makers acted based on this prevailing wisdom, Japanese firms were able to capture a large share of the U.S. market with smaller, more reliable, and more fuel-efficient cars in the 1980s.

To further illustrate his point that one cannot reliably plan for an uncertain future

TABLE 2-1 Changing Benchmarks




Number of Web Pages



Dow Jones Industrial Average on January 3



Soviet Union


Does not exist


SOURCE: Schwartz, 2000.

by simply extrapolating from current trends, Schwartz presented data on dramatic technological, economic, and political changes that have taken place over the past decade (see Table 2-1).

Schwartz suggested that an important step in planning for an uncertain future is to make a list of relevant events and to categorize the events as certain or uncertain to continue into the future. (For example, the Abrams tank was designed because the army felt that the existence of the Soviet Union was a certainty.) Schwartz maintained that this process of categorizing events can allow one to identify signposts that might be monitored to indicate how the future is unfolding. He led the workshop participants in brainstorming to identify factors influencing development of technologies that: (1) might be useful in science and mathematics education, and (2) might influence implementation of those technologies over the next 10 years. Using the resulting list, participants then assembled in small groups to discuss which factors they felt were certain and which were uncertain.

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