‘Tis the Season of Predictions

If it’s December, it’s prediction time. Ready the pundits, futurists and know-it-alls for their end-of-year forecasts, trends and visions of 2011 and beyond.

The problem with all these predictions is that there is little-to-no accountability for their accuracy. Who ever really goes back to check whether a prognosticator’s prognostications were ever really right? Without this accountability, people are inclined — even incented — to predict more radical versions of tomorrow, as those are the ones that grab headlines today.

This becomes a problem when we base our decision-making and plans around experts’ versions of the future. We expect their predictions will play out, as they are the “experts.” But, the truth is, no one can predict what’s going to happen in 20XX, as everything might change tomorrow, even later today. The best we can hope for is to plan well and to be agile enough to adapt when things don’t go according to plan.

I’d argue that the best planning and best decision-making happen not as the result of having the best information about the future, but with the best understanding of the problem you are trying to solve. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to understanding, whereas there are for getting better information (e.g., citing someone’s predictions).

Better understanding of the problem you are trying to solve comes from finding new ways of looking at it, from collaborating with others and from bringing people in from the outside to add their perspectives to your own. Fresh perspective, even if you disagree with it, leads to new forms of understanding. Over time and with enough of it, these perspectives build your nonrational skills — your intuition, your sensing, your feeling — and these skills are critical to making better decisions.

So, instead of relying on others’ predictions of the future, try to develop a better understanding of the problems you’re trying to solve and why solving them really matters. If you can, you’ll be creating the future, not simply predicting it.