No Prediction Is A Fact

Forecasting and predicting are difficult, more likely impossible. Even experts get it wrong.

“We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out anyway.”   – President of Decca records rejecting the Beatles after a 1962 audition.

“We can’t use you; you haven’t finished university.”  Hewlett Packard executive to Steve Jobs.

The USC Film School rejected student applicant Steven Spielberg twice.

Harvard Business School rejected student applicant Warren Buffett.

The Future is unknowable,  nonetheless, there are some ways to think about the future that hold a least a little promise.

We have a tendency to believe the future will be an extension of the past and present. Cars will be more economical and have more features. Computers will be faster and cheaper. There will be drugs to kill now-common problems. Newspapers will be fewer and rely less on news and more on research and commentary. Advertising will be more spectacular.

We think as if the world is deterministic, and it is not. The past does not predict the future. The future is chaotic. Edward Lorenz says, the approximate present does not approximately predict the future. 

The best we know is the approximate present, so good luck with that prediction.

Rather than look for trends, look for voids. Think about what something would mean rather than what it might be. There is a chance someone will fill the voids.

In the second world war, returning bombers were examined for bullet holes and the areas that showed many were shielded. Someone pointed out that it might be smarter to shield the areas not punctured since no planes with holes in those places returned. Despite having no proof, it is at least plausible that those areas were the more vulnerable.

If you want a predictive edge, you could look to what is not in the past or present. The void. Hard to project that, but if it is something that is desirable, you could bet it will appear. Things that people fear or are greedy for, are most likely to solve first. Health, beauty, wealth, liberty, influence if not control, security, safety, communication, and intellect would be fertile fields to examine. When remains a variable.

When can be guessed. Study basic research. There is a long time between basic research and available in the market. Historically it has been about 30 years but is likely less now. Same theory for social trends.  If you want to know what will be socially important in 2025, take a hard look at new movements in 2000 or so.

New processes and capabilities will change things vastly more than our linear minds believe. Take computer speed and price for example. When I started university some students there had just solved Archimedes Cattle Problem. It existed more than two millennia before being solved by, what would be today, a rudimentary computer.

As computational capability improves and becomes cheaper we can expect to see other unsolvable problems become straightforward. The insight is that a problem that takes 10,000 man-years to solve is not the same problem if it can be solved by a computer in 10,000 hours. We are coming to the point where that problem can be solved by 10,000 processors working together nearly instantly. That matters. Some solutions iterate from knowledge you have just acquired. 10,000 year gaps make it unlikely something unknown will happen. Ten minutes though? 

Many difficult things are trivial now. Try taking a teenager to a reference library to do research for an essay. Books!? Really? How silly is that? Google and a word processor. Split the screen. Notes in one half, text in the other. Done in hours instead of weeks.

Every solution gives us insight into new possibilities and capabilities. No solution closes the problem space.  Each opens more space to look for opportunities and solutions. There will be many of these kinds of problems solved and soon.  The technology already exists.

DNA analysis is in its infancy. So too medical scanning. High tech materials are coming because people can design compounds rather than find them. Engineering will give up some creative parts to capable processors.

As you grow older you find yourself amazed by how little you know of all that is there. That is a growing problem because the knowledge space grows faster than your ability to absorb it. Stay curious. Open yourself to wonder. You don’t need to know everything and there is little chance you will get the future exactly right.

Don Shaughnessy arranges life insurance for people who understand the value of a life insured estate. He can be reached at The Protectors Group, a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency in Peterborough, Ontario.  In previous careers, he has been a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business.

Please be in touch if I can help you.  866-285-7772


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