The Hunt for Grey Swans — Top 15 Methods & Frameworks — #1 CIPHER

Grey Swan Guild
6 min readJan 16, 2024

Chasing Possibilities, Wild Cards and Extremes by Flipping the Tables on the Status Quo

Author: Sean Moffitt, Grey Swan Guild Founder and CEO, Cygnus Ventures

The more and more I work with people on the idea of Grey Swans, the more and more I realize this quest for discovering and postulating the barely knowable is not such an obvious skill and talent. The ability to imagine a different world, uncover emerging trends that are hidden in plain sight, and consider alternative scenarios that the rest of the world isn’t currently thinking, is tough slugging for many.

We thought we might help. In this series, we’ll codify 15 methods and frameworks that have served us well in turning over foresight, futures, complexity and trend stones that don’t often get turned over. Some are borrowed from other great minds, some are adapted for the purposes of our Grey Swan hunt form related and some are completely new-to-the-world.

Reminder — Grey Swan Definition: Unlikely but knowable key factors, events and developments, capable of being evaluated and validated in advance, with impacts that could positively and/or negatively shake up the world.

Let’s get vested in these together. Don’t be an ostrich, be a Grey Swan.

The Full Collection of Grey Swan Methods & Frameworks

Method #1 — CIPHER — Flipping the Table of the Status Quo

CIPHER is an acronym-based framework and tool that describes six indicators for identifying the early onset of emerging trends and weak future signals that swim away from the mainstream:

Invented by: Future Today Institute, Amy Webb

Category: Early stage, generative framework and tools

Why we Love It as a Grey Swan Tool: Counter-conventional, accessibility

Overcomes the sin of: Landing on key foresights and directions too early (a frequent output of popular SWOT analysis), settling for early orthodoxy versus true Grey Swans

Work preceded by:

  • Going broad — mapping a wide universe of information, away from the mainstream sources, before applying judgements
  • Making connections — establishing trend nodes and signal patterns where edge x + fringe y = big future value z

Work followed by:

  • Clustering outputs that combined might form a stronger Grey Swan headline, argument, scenario or investigation area
  • Preferred Futures Application — going deeper on how does this favourably affect your environment, your challenges, your company, your teams and your actions

Facets of CIPHER:

  • Contradictions: devolopments and examples that demonstrate opposing and incongruous forces at play simultaneously
  • Inflections: occurrences, pivots and triggers that mark a major turning point or new paradigm
  • Practices: emerging behaviours, uses and values that are becoming more pronounced or gaining popularity
  • Hacks: invented, unintended thinking and uses for tools, technologies and systems from the edge and the fringe
  • Extremes: instances of technologies, models or ideas being pushed to new limits that might change their nature
  • Rarities: Highly unlikely, unexpected or generational events, phenomena and key factors

Additional Commentary:

“The moment I spotted the CIPHER tool I realized somebody had captured the true value of counter intuition in building future value for business. Most trend reports merely synthesize what’s well on the road to happening, CIPHER goes out of its way to identify the ‘about to be potentially breaking’. It’s also comprehensive in exploring the edge space without being overwhelming. This one is a fave but I’m not surprised, most of Amy Webb’s stuff smells like future roses.” Sean Moffitt

Grey Swan Posts:

This starts a full series of fifteen posts on different methods and frameworks for chasing Grey Swans. but we have so much other commentary on this valuable but often overlooked chase for the non-obvious:

Stay tuned with us here, as well as on our website for all the rundowns.

Participate in our Hunt for Grey Swans

Don’t worry it’s a humane hunt. We have already invited some of our regular contributors to provide us the seeds of what will be our authoritative list of one hundred 2024 Grey Swans.

These are the improbable, disruptive and remote developments that decision makers better keep at least one eye peeled open for so they don’t blindside them. Perhaps you have some you’ve considered yourself.

Be among the most talented and wide-eyed observers. Let us know your Grey Swan additions and we will add them to our annual collection with our 2024 Grey Swan Guild Subnmission Form. Other benefits and collabroations may follow.

Grey Swan Submission Form:

Grey Swan Guild — Making Sense of the World and Next Grey Swans

We are the Guild whose mission it is to make sense of the world and next Grey Swans (wild cards, scenarios, early signals).

How we do this is guided by our four values of: aspiration, collaboration, curiosity and purpose.

We bring this to life through six facets of our world-leading Guild experience:

  • Intelligence and Foresight
  • Content and Publications
  • Events and Experiences
  • Training and Learning
  • Global Community and Network
  • Experiments and Ventures

Here’s what you can do in the Guild:

Learn about the Guild:
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Now coming up to our 4th year of our Guild, we have built twelve ventures designed to create value and tap our enormous reservoir of talent found inside the Guild.

To get directly involved in any one of our Cygnus Ventures , including two venture efforts focused on research and intelligence efforts called Weathervanes (current focused) and The Radar Collection (future-focused).

Go Deeper as a Global Sensemaker:
Learn more about our ventures:

To get directly involved in any one of our twelve (12) Cygnus Ventures including click here. To hire our ventures group for any of your own wicked challenges or Grey Swans, let’s have a discussion.

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