The 'Perfect Storm' metaphor describes a combination of events that causes a surprising or dramatic impact. It lends an evolutionary perspective to how social-ecological interactions change. Thus, we argue that an improved understanding of how social-ecological systems have evolved up to the present is necessary for the modelling, understanding and anticipation of current and future social-ecological systems. Here we consider the implications of an evolutionary perspective for designing research approaches. One desirable approach is the creation of multi-decadal records produced by integrating palaeoenvironmental, instrument and documentary sources at multiple spatial scales. We also consider the potential for improved analytical and modelling approaches by developing system dynamical, cellular and agent-based models, observing complex behaviour in social-ecological systems against which to test systems dynamical theory, and drawing better lessons from history. Alongside these is the need to find more appropriate ways to communicate complex systems, risk and uncertainty to the public and to policy-makers.