How to Predict the Future – AND Be Right! – BLOG 0009

predicting the future

Today, I share with you how over many years, and many trials and errors, I learned to predict the future – and get it right.  And, in between, in the form of ‘lessons learnt,’ I drop devious hints about how you might do the same.

Getting the right numbers

As a kid, I used to fantasize that a hand thrust through the veil of the future, and dropped next week’s newspaper into my lap.

In my daydreams, I eagerly scanned the pages for two things:  That next week’s Tattslotto numbers, for me to rush out and buy a week early.  And stock market shares that had tripled in value.

Lessons learnt

  • Imagination and reality are different versions of the ‘truth’.
  • ‘Imagination truths’ and ‘reality truths’ divide the world in two – some individuals believing one, some believing the other.
  • I believe both. You?
  • When we stop to listen, reflect, and ‘see’, our imaginative minds create clearer truths, and newer, different, better futures.
  • And they also tell us, quite clearly, what we really want from the future.
  • Science fiction precedes scientific and technological innovation.
  • I am never likely to win Tatts.
  • But one day my Tardis will come – maybe.
  • Woops, silly me. Of course!  My future-travelling Tardis imagination travels with me, always.
  • I remain perpetually grateful for what now is, and for what might be!
  • And: “Gratitude opens the door to… the power, the wisdom, the creativity of the universe,” claimed Deepak Chopra.   He got it right!

Wanting to know the future

For some strange reason, that newspaper-from-the-future dream never materialised.   But the aspiration to know the future has remained life-long.  In my teens and twenties, I became fascinated by megatrends, and studied them in earnest.

Megatrends are global, sustained and macro economic
forces of development that impacts business, economy,
society, cultures and personal lives thereby defining our
future world and its increasing pace of change.”

And I started to create a number of small businesses based on these megatrends.  Ending up with 44 in all.   41 of which did well, and 3 being big, big failures.

My belief was then, and still is now, that some trends emerging right now, continue into the future and shape it.   “I have seen the future and it is very much like the present, only longer,” suggests the pseudonymous Kehlog Albran, in, ‘The Profit’, a parody of Kahlil Gibran’s inspirational book of 26 prose fables, ‘The Prophet’[A great example, of ‘things’ not always being what they seem].

So…here are a few trends to consider:    

Is it a problem or a need?

Very few of us aspire our future to be a billion dollar company…

Bit an an important blog, Steve Blank of Stanford University, reckons, “The quickest way to create a billion dollar company is to take basic human social needs and figure out how to mediate them on-line.”

And Albran’s tongue-in-cheek words about the future being like the past ring true, especially true when the trends are based on basic human needs like:  safety, security, sausages that sizzle, success, self-actualisation, silly-ness, s*x.

Or on demographic life cycles.

Or when the trend, as Steve Blank suggests, “solves a problem and gets a job done for a consumer or a company (accounting software, elevators, air-conditioning, electricity, tablet computers, electric toothbrushes, airplanes, email software, etc.)”

Lessons learnt

  1. Some human needs and problems are universal and eternal – like: the need to progress and grow. And some are merely fashionable and peripheral – like pet rocks, designed by advertising executive Gary Dahl in 1975.  Pet rocks went crazy, sold 1.5 million in 6 months, and then folded.   [Leaving lots of shop owners with much more stock to write off].
  2. Basic human needs and problems – turned into opportunities – create most of the future. So, enduring innovations and businesses are best built on the enduring things that make us human.   These ever-lasting basics were here last week, are here this week, and will be there next week.  Guaranteed!Only, given another basic human need is for variety, and to be entertained, each time round these basic needs get expressed in ever-changing forms.
  1. Well-researched and documented demographic trends and cycles can also point out strongly indicative futures. Australian Phil Ruthven of Ibis World, and American Harry S Dent of H S Dent Publishing, have both built global-impact businesses on this idea.Variously seen as a saviour and snake oil salesman, Dent’s spending wave theory, is that consumer spending, related to the generational formation of families, has a profound effect on business cycles; on which products rise and fall, when; and on the market value of investments in assets such as gold, financial securities and real estate.   He reckons he’s always right about the future.  Even when he’s wrong!
  1. Saviours are often crucified, and even snake-oil salesmen and women areright about the future sometimes, and sometimes not.
  2. Thomas Merton and George Bernard Shaw were right about the Pygmalion Effect: Like Eliza Doolittle, our earnest belief that a certain future will occur, leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy, where we make it happen, and bring that future about.
  3. ‘Realists’ solve problems, and thus ‘fix’ the past. ‘Imaginists’ create opportunities, and thus ‘fix’ the future.
  4. Get to know your market, sure. But the ‘market’ doesn’t always know what it wants until innovators unveil it.   Henry Ford famously said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”   And Steve Jobs said something similar:   “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”
  5. When we find something that ‘everyone’ believes, but it’s not true, we have a potential big winner.   “If God intended us to fly She would have given us wings.”  “That’s the way we’ve always done things around here.”   “If you don’t want your fingers burnt, don’t tamper with the tried and true, Sonny.”

Looking back

Looking back, I see Albran was partly right, and partly really wrong about the future being like the past but longer.     The future is both the same, and different from the past, and the present.  Or as Alphonse Karr put it,  “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

So… many trends keep on keeping on, and other major, unexpected disruptions also occur upsetting the trends, and creating new ones.   Both statements are true.   In this sense Winston Churchill got close to the mark, “I always avoid prophesying beforehand because it is much better to prophesy after the event has already taken place.”   

Spoiler:   Hint to what’s comingChurchill also said:  “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.”  And he did.

Finding the disruptors?

So how do we find and account for the tend upsetters, the unexpected, the disrupters of our steady state, present and futures?   Key Question!  And I’ll answer it in a moment.

Looking back now with the wisdom of hindsight, I see that 15 of the 44 businesses I created were very much at the forefront of new emerging trends, that gathered force over later years.   But I grew bored with all of them, for taking so long to develop, and gave them away before they had much impact, or made much money.  The future takes its own time to unfold.

Lessons learnt: 

  1. Current trends, and megatrends, can give important insights about the future.
  2. There’s often not much joy in primary research, or being first to market – unless you garner the resources to go big, big, big, fast, fast, fast.
  3. Even then ‘first to market’ companies often fail. Where are Nissan Altra, Myspace, Blockbuster and Altavista today?
  4. And late and last movers can win, since they build on the breakthroughs, failures and learning of earlier versions – and they add the distinctive ‘secret herbs and spices’ which create a new future.    Like, for example, a really impactful business model.

    Henry Ford came late on the car scene.   Tesla was a ‘late’ electric car.   Before Google arrived on the scene in 1997, there was Archie, Gopher, Wandex, Webcrawler, Excite, Yahoo, Lycos, Infoseek,  AltaVista,  Inktomi, and Ask Jeeves.

    iPod was the last of a long-line of mp3 players.  And Facebook was a Johnny come lately on the social network scene.

  1. Back then, and even today, it can take 10-20 years to gain overnight success.

Snapshot, Apple, AirBnB, Facebook and Google were all ridiculed early on.  J K Rowling got multiple rejections for her first Harry Potter manuscript; and her eventual literary agent, Christopher Little, sent it to 12 more publishers before Bloomsbury finally accepted it.  The seven Harry Potter books have now sold over 450 million copies, and they, plus the highly successful film franchise, have made Rowling wealthier than Queen Elizabeth 11.

Our future mind

In my thirties I developed my ongoing fascination, which continues still in my seventies, with the human mind.   I learnt something important.   That our mind is constructed to dwell on the past, and to continuously reconstruct both our personal and human experiences… And also to always be thinking of the future, in an optimistic or pessimistic way.

But the hardest thing for our minds, and us, is to truly dwell in the present, with anything approaching full awareness.   In short our mind keeps leading us astray.

More of this in a minute…

Foresighting tools

After completing an MBA in my early thirties, I took one of my few salaried roles ever – as Regional Director of W D Scott & Co, at the time the pre-eminent Australian-owned management consulting company.

While there, I was introduced to many fascinating forecasting or foresighting tools. Here are a few used today by Arthur D Little.   But these are all new bikkies to me:

selection of foresighting tools

Lesson learnt

  1. Tools like this are intellectually fascinating, and socially exciting when worked on in teams.
  2. They quickly gain a life and language of their own.
  3. They lead to interesting reports, workshops and power point shows.
  4. But, way back then, at least, it seemed they rarely lead to anyone acting differently in any way.  Today?
  5. Yeap analysis, even of possible futures, can lead to paralysis and a false sense we have gained control of the future: “Fore-knowing is power!” – Hah!   Yes, like a hand from the future with next week’s lotto numbers.
  6. Insight, needs other ‘secret, herbs and spices’ plus fries added, before we act to create a different future.

How you predict the future and be right

Which last point leads us to where we have been heading all along:

  1. Unless we’re an academic, or consultant, or trainer, forget about trying to understand and predict the future of everything for everyone.
  2. Instead accept the future that is important is our future, and the future of those we love, those we care about, and those we choose to work with, to serve, and to influence.
  3. Quote Abraham Lincoln’s words as our mantra every day: “The best way to predict your [my/our] future is to create it.
  4. In reality our future is made up of a progressive series of nows. A simple but profound truth!    Everything else is fantasy.
  5. Make a conscious effort to live in the now. Live every day now well.   And we can predict, create and live a full life in the future – along with others.
  6. Push off the edge, all the disruptions and problems and opportunities and issues that are not presenting now. When they present, in the present, we can deal with them, there and then.
  7. Decide if your Life Purpose seriously includes you being disruptor, or someone who assists with the diffusion of disruptions and other innovations.
  8. If a Disruptor, decide what you want to disrupt, and get on with it. And in the process, you’ll predict your future, create your future, and get it right.
  9. If a Diffusor, look hard at the diffusion of innovation cycle and select 3-5 trends that turn you on. And get on with it.

Living my future

I would love to natter with you one-to-one about you getting your future right.   But just to complete the personal story, the three big trends I am working on as a youngster of 76, right now, are:

  1. Building a platform and smart system to integrate the global sharing economy – through Keaz and ShareToken.
  2. Innovating collaboratively – through Innovating Cosmos.
  3. Developing a new blockchain and cryptocurrency ecosystem – through ShareToken.

Till next time.

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