Ruud Smeulders

Trendwatching and Future Design

Is the future really that unpredictable? I don’t think so! And here’s why…

In a time were everything is changing fast, many people think that the future is very uncertain. And it’s often said that the future is unpredictable. That’s not really truth. One can predict the future, but not in a very detailed way. Maybe also not just in all of the details you want to know. But a lot of our future is not as unpredictable as many people expect.

If we can’t even forecast the weather, how can we ever hope to forecast what the market is going to do?

Take for instant our weather forecast. And I agree with you that it is not always as accurate as you want it to be. For instance, if there is still some unexpected rain on that sunny day where you planned your family picnic. But most of our common weather forecast is very good. It gives you an excellent view of the weather in the near future. And one of the reasons that all those weather reports and weather channels are so popular is that we really believe that they can predict the future. We know that those models for weather prediction in the future are often correct, although not always very accurate.

Can we still believe what the economists have to say?

In many other areas a lot of people believe the predictions from specialists. We believe government when they say that the population is aging next 20 years. We believe them when they say that the cost of healthcare will rise enormous. We believe economists who are showing us that countries have to economize and banks are to be saved. But in many cases those predictions are not as solid as the weather forecast. Ageing is a problem for the Western World and for countries like China and Japan. But not for Africa, South America an major big parts of Asia. And if we open our borders in West Europe, the aging problem is solved in a few years. We will have other problems, but not an aging problem. It’s a political matter. Not a clean, scientific forecast of our future.

Understanding the past really does help

In technology and science a lot of our future development can be predicted. In fact science is nothing more than a way to understand the past and make models to predict the future. That’s the essence of science. That’s what scientists are doing. By analyzing and decompose observations in the past they make models and theories. And by using these theories and models they can say what will happen under certain circumstances. With this theory they can predict what will happen in the future under these circumstances. So, in fact, they make the tools to predict our future. But in practice, there are a lot of uncertainties. It’s very difficult to get a real nice set of rather certain variables of the future circumstances to use the models and theory. So it’s not so very easy to use the models to predict the future in a very accurate way.

That’s why I’ve written a book looking back over 10 years of trying to forecast the future.  The book describes the pros and cons, the sense and nonsense of trend watching within companies. It gives you a helping hand by doing your own trend watching within your company. This is the first step to develop a sustainable future vision for your company. But the book also describes how technology trends are sustainable over time. And the book shows you how to predict the future using these trends.

One way to create a reasonable future proof environment is by using trend watching and scenario planning tools. By using megatrends one can build an imaginary future environment that is credible. If you make several of these future worlds by using also the uncertainties in the trends, one has completed the scenario planning process. And if you have such a collection of environment you can design your company in such a way that it survey in all of these future worlds. You get a sustainable future image for your company or institution. After that, you can start to innovate in the right direction.

Want to know more about why forecaster often get it wrong? Contact us.

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