“Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.
“The future is purchased by the present.”
“If the people in this room were right just 1 percent of the time, we’d all be telecommuting from Tahiti, eating dinner in pill form and having literal sex with our virtual selves.”
Around the new year everyone gets into the prediction business. Basically, a shitload of people become “futurists.” Well. I wrote in 2011 the whole ‘futurist’ career was bullshit and suggested I could never be one. Let me begin by explaining where “Futurist” began.
The “Manifesto of Futurism,” written by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti was published on the front page of the French newspaper Le Figaro on February 20, 1909. It proclaimed the desire of the author, and his fellow Futurists, to abandon the past and embrace the future.
The point here on the whole concept of a “Futurist” is that their very existence is disdainful of the present.
Should we have an eye to the future? Absolutely. To not do so is to remain stagnant with regard to thinking.
Should we ignore the present? Absolutely not. If there was ever a time that a Futurist discussed the present, now would be the time.
Future thinking is purchased in the present. In other words, something existing within the present – most likely some type of behavior is the future opportunity. Saying that permits me to say that I believe Futurists, or the label/title, is kind of silly. Suffice it to say looking at trends and envisioning ‘what could be’ doesn’t need a title. And you certainly cannot earn a living doing it if you get paid for successful futuristic prognostication.
Why? Because the probability of being right is very very low. Pretty much every so called futurist <excepting maybe Toffler & Drucker … who never called themselves Futurists> has had an incredibly poor success rate in outlining future trends & behavior <and sometimes even attitudes>.
“The futurist was never cutting edge or far ahead of the curve. He was often only just a few minutes in front of the pack, or a couple seconds ahead of the global zeitgeist, or at least of the middle american one. It is rare, and a gift, to be able to see something was going to be big in a mainstream way months and sometimes years before your hipsters, your early adapters, your so called thought leaders embraced it.”
Moving beyond simply slamming futurists, in my mind I believe futurists shouldn’t predict they should inspire thinking <which could beget the future>. This kind of career activity is sort of like NASA, i.e., unintended innovations and learning.
The truth of a trend spotter or a ‘futurist’ is that they steal <reassemble> the thoughts of others and repurpose them for slightly different purposes under the guise of ‘recognizing disparate facts that impact the bigger picture.’ Once again, I do not begrudge them. That takes a skill (I highly recommend both Mike Walsh books, Dictionary of Dangerous Ideas & The Algorithmic Leader as he is what I envision a Futurist SHOULD do). Its just that many of the so-called Futurists take advantage of a world where it is acceptable to not to know the answers to the questions that the world asks every second of the day. It’s okay to not know what you want, where you want to go and who you want to become.
It’s okay to wonder.
It’s okay to question and ask.
And it is okay to not to know<although those listening then take it as gospel>.
And what’s not okay is to stop wondering. So the faux Futurist steps in and uses all of those to create answers (to unanswerable questions) and create a made up future world everyone can think about.
Ok. All that said.
Here is a truth <and Futurists clearly understand this>. The people they are talking to don’t really want wisdom. Those people just want shortcuts to getting more. Therefore if the message doesn’t match the ‘more’ desires ultimately it doesn’t engage the listeners because it doesn’t contain the inevitability of something positive.
It may sound cynical but nowadays a message needs a sense of some guarantee that prosperity will never end <that is a thought from the book>. And therein lies my biggest issue, the fact that trend watchers are seeking future prosperity versus discussing empowering present prosperity.
That “seek future vs. empower present” is the issue we should skewer 99% of so-called Futurist, predictors, over.
The truth is that the future is actually found in the now. Uhm. I mean that future ideas are actually found in the now. Note that this ‘now’ is not just in thinking, but in doing.
Thinking about what is happening now <attitudes>.
Thinking about what is being done today <behavior>.
Say what? How can it be futuristic if it is just a derivative of something in the present?
Well. To me real futuristic trending type thinking has to have a slightly pragmatic foundation residing somewhere in the minds of the rising generation. The real, the truly meaningful, behavior shifts occur not within a generation, but within transition of generations. Therefore any pie in the sky type thinking has to be made up of some pie that <simplistically> the kids of the present have an interest in eating of. For any future type ideation will live or die not with existing attitude generations but more so in evolving attitude generations.
To be clear. People’s attitudes do, and can, evolve as they age and experience things <and they are exposed to new and different attitudes and behavior>. But that isn’t futuristic thinking, that is simply critical mass thinking (I recommend Mark Earls “Herd” for this).
It’s a different ability. That is someone who can look at existing trends and attitudes … mostly looking at those that reside in fractions or in the minority of minds … and figuring out which ones will actually gain enough traction to attain the critical mass to ‘evolve’ the majority of attitudes.
I say that but also suggest that this is often a Sisyphean task.
Attitudes are imprints. They are almost like tattoos. Once established they are almost impossible to remove.
Think about how the past minority point of views have shifted to a majority more mainstream view acceptance and, yet, there still remains a solid steadfast unrelenting minority attitude system in place. Evolution of attitudes is like glaciers. And they also tend to follow generations … and not single generations. Early adopter generation transitioning to a vocal minority generation to a majority acceptance generation and ultimately a generation who not only has the attitudes but behavior is established.
Ok. Last thought on predictions.
Toffler co-wrote the 1970 book Future Shock and also Power Shift and also The Adaptive Corporation <all of which I have sourced so often it is embarrassing>. And while some of his writings were off base and some a little bit of a stretch, most of his writings were incredibly insightful and we are living much of what he outlined then – today. He predicted the rise of the internet, the impact of the internet on the workplace, how technology would affect sociological norms as well as labor needs and he even discussed the decline of the nuclear family.
In general, he foresaw the larger impact related to technological advancement.
And far too often we ignore what he wrote and had the foresight to point out. My point is far too often today’s experts and pontificators act like what is happening today is some seismic shift reflective of an earthquake happening before our eyes.
They are wrong.
What is happening today is the tsunami occurring on our shores from the earthquake which occurred under some deep ocean decades ago. And that is what Toffler outlined for us. And that is what I wish far more people would invest the energy researching to better understand why things are happening in the here & now (not just Toffler but the underlying attitudinal shifts).
As I write I can look up on the closest bookshelf and see my well worn copies of Future Shock and PowerShift. Toffler writing should be mandatory for anyone who wants to discuss current trends and current business issues. And you, and I, should demand that they do so. To not do so is to commit professional malpractice. At its least worst it reflects intellectual laziness to discuss what is happening today without the proper background.
Well. Paradoxically … future ideas are actually best found in looking backwards — at those who are coming up behind … the young. Futurists have to look forward, but seek truth in the young. Their predictions will never come true if there isn’t a pragmatic realistic foundation to be found within the youth. With no traction, the idea, shit, any future type idea will die.
As I type that it sounds so obvious, yet, it seems like futurists and trend identifiers seem to focus on today’s people and gaze at the horizon.
Shit. What do I know.
I am not a futurist. I am not a predictor. I like to live in the present & make sure I have a future to be doing something in. I also know that past behavior is NOT a predictor of future behavior. So what do I know? Predictions are shit.