Only societies which have confidence in their institutions are resilient

John L. Casti is an Amer­i­can math­e­mati­cian and sys­tem the­o­rist. He is senior research fel­low at the Stevens Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy in New York and was pre­vi­ous­ly pro­fes­sor of oper­a­tions Research and Sys­tem The­o­ry at the Insti­tute for Econo­met­rics and Sys­tem The­o­ry at the Vien­na Uni­ver­si­ty of Tech­nol­o­gy. Casti was co-founder of the first X‑Center in Vien­na, which was fol­lowed by a num­ber of oth­er X‑Centers, i.e. in Helsin­ki, Tokyo, Seoul and New York. The X‑Centers deal with the ques­tion of how crises can be pre­dict­ed by math­e­mat­i­cal mod­els. In 2012 Casti pub­lished the book „X‑Events — The Col­lapse of Every­thing“, ded­i­cat­ed to the research on unfore­seen events. John L. Casti was one of the experts at the SURPRISE FACTORS SYMPOSIUM 2014 in Gmunden.

X‑Events are events that are rel­a­tive­ly rare, sur­pris­ing and have a lot of impact. They can have both, neg­a­tive and pos­i­tive con­se­quences — but always act destruc­tive­ly on the sta­tus quo and are there­fore con­struc­tive for changes. They are nec­es­sary for human progress because they are clear­ing the way for new things to devel­op. We are only at the begin­ning with our stud­ies on these events, and it is not yet dis­cussed in detail how to define them at all.

The pre­dic­tion of an X‑Event is cur­rent­ly impos­si­ble because the nec­es­sary Big Data is not yet suf­fi­cient­ly avail­able. Analy­sis of large data sets could advance our under­stand­ing of X‑Events deci­sive­ly. Mak­ing pre­dic­tions is so dif­fi­cult because the whole con­text, in which such X‑Events occur, is con­stant­ly in motion. Seem­ing­ly ran­dom devel­op­ments and events can be Trig­ger-Events for a spi­ral of fur­ther events that — in their entire­ty — pro­duce an unex­pect­ed X‑Event.

What to do when an X‑Event occurs?

  1. Sur­vive the shock of the event. This means, a soci­ety must be ade­quate­ly pre­pared to sur­vive such unfore­seen disasters.
  2. Adapt­ing to the new sit­u­a­tion. A soci­ety must be able to ana­lyze the new envi­ron­ment — iden­ti­fy­ing exist­ing resources, nich­es and limits.
  3. Take risks and jump into new nich­es. Since: with­out tak­ing risks, there will be no reward.

What makes a society resilient?

  • Pub­lic con­fi­dence in its insti­tu­tions and orga­ni­za­tions is the cen­tral point. To estab­lish this kind of trust trans­paren­cy in all polit­i­cal process­es is required. It is this kind of trust that makes the nec­es­sary dras­tic deci­sions wide­ly accept­ed and there­fore possible.
  • Shared val­ues in soci­ety. These are the basis for pol­i­cy decisions.
  • „Big is bad“. A soci­ety has to be large enough to be able to be able to make attrac­tive offers for its cit­i­zens — but it must also be small enough, not to be too complex.


  • „You can‘t pre­dict these events because they are in a con­text that is per­ma­nent­ly shifting.“
  • „X‑Events are rare, sur­pris­ing and they have a lot of impact.“
  • „Big is bad. Try not to be too big to fail.“
  • „Shared val­ues, not too big in scale and cre­ate an infra­struc­ture of trust — that helps to sur­vive an X‑Event.“
  • „No risk means no reward.“

Connecting factors for ACADEMIA SUPERIOR

Points for fur­ther discussion

  • How can trust in the insti­tu­tions of a soci­ety be established?
  • How can our soci­ety become more transparent?
  • Which X‑Events are like­ly to hap­pen to us?
  • How can we ben­e­fit from an X‑Event?

Tools for development

  • More trans­paren­cy in pol­i­tics and society
  • Build­ing up a social infra­struc­ture of trust
  • Play­ing through sce­nar­ios of pos­si­ble X‑Events
  • Iden­ti­fy­ing com­mon social values