THE FUTURE. FORGET IT. WHY LONG RANGE FORECASTS ARE A WASTE OF TIME

Posted On 17th December 2013

If you already work for Apple, LinkedIn, a firm of 3D printers or the Chinese Navy this article is not for you. Good luck ruling the world of the future. If you do.

As for the rest of us…..

I’m 43 years of age. Ten years ago economists were predicting I would live through an unending boom. Now they tell forty-somethings we are going to die in brutal poverty.

We won’t even have our own Charles Dickens to write about it because schools are pumping out “Millennials” who can’t write. I doubt the selfie is going to have the same impact on social reform “A Christmas Carol” did. Or so the education experts of the Pisa Group conclude.

Furthermore, I’d better buy air-conditioning with my last pay cheque because by the time I retire in 2231 AD at the new, necessary retirement age of 161, England average’s summer daylight temperature will make the Mojave Desert look like Santa’s kind of place.

Finally economists, social scientists, climatologists, politicians and citizen journalists will be more powerful than ever and unless you happen to be the CEO of Apple or command the aircraft carrier Mao Zedong you’ll have to listen to them.

What staggers me about all these predictions is not that they are made (people are paid very well to make them) but that anyone bothers to listen.

Take economists. Seriously, take them. There must be an urban regeneration project somewhere that needs unskilled manual labour and they seem ideal. They could lift bricks and dig drainage ditches and clear away twenty years of rusting soft drink cans. It’s an ideal use!

Economists are the most lavishly funded branch of the social sciences and, so we were told, had replaced artists as our guide to the human future. They “knew”.

When almost none of them predicted the crash of 2008-2013 and today’s tepid recovery you’d have thought they’d disappear into the same shamed category as clairvoyants and faith healers. Alas not. They are there. Still there. Pumping out numbers on enormous salaries and winning headlines for work that will be proved wrong by the passage of time. Possibly before it’s published.

Let’s face facts kids, we can’t predict the future. Whether its own our careers, marriages, economic fortunes, life expectancy or the weather next week (let alone 50 years from now).

We just don’t know.

The reason is what I like to call friction. Every event. Every fact, throws up a new set of facts as it interacts with reality and all those other facts. You have to build them into all your speculating. But, pretty soon, there are far too many for even the cleverest brains to follow.

“We are on a darkling plain”, as Matthew Arnold wrote, which for you millenials means someone switched the lights off. If they were ever on.

So, abandon your five strategic planning cycles, stop wasting time on long range forecasts, let your kids find their own way, make some sensible short range assumptions about your own life and get very good at opportunism and tactics.

Prediction is a bit like all those JFK assassination theories. We like them because they give us the illusion of knowledge and a sense, therefore, of control. Nah. JFK died for no better reason than a lone Marxist upset about the FBI’s treatment of his Russian wife took a mediocre rifle and got lucky with one bullet out of four.

By the way, when I was a kid the Punk generation (who were predicted to unleash anarchy on the world, not become software engineers, project managers and economists, which is what they did) used to say “When there is no future how can there be sin?”

So, happy holidays to all our readers!

David Welsh

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