As people who are intensely fascinated by the future and spend a lot of time spotting, deciphering and debating weak signals, we come across many great pieces of research — and every once in a while some rather spotty forecasts.
To help you navigate your way through sometimes muddy waters, let us share with you our top 5 tips on spotting spotty forecasts:
(1) Definitive proclamations about the future
The beauty of the future is that it is unwritten. There is no crystal ball which gives you an accurate view into the future. Thus people who tell you with proclaimed certainty that “X” will happen by “Y” are likely overly confident in their ability to predict the future. The best you can do is predict a range of possibilities (what my colleague Paul Saffo calls “the cone of uncertainty”).
(2) Outlandish claims about the future
Something in the human psyche makes our ears perk up when someone makes bold claims. Make an outlandish claim about the future (really: anything) with sufficient conviction and you will find plenty of people who stop thinking and start nodding their heads in agreement. Scratch the surface and you will often discover that these claims have little data to back them up.
(3) Non-verifiable timeframes
Place your future prediction far enough out (anything beyond the next five to ten years will do in many areas) and the words out of your mouth become essentially unverifiable. Which allows the bold and brazen to get away with murder.
(4) Dismissal of expert opinions
To substantiate their claims, you sometimes see a dismissal of expert opinion and projections. It’s a similar framing as “fake news” — dismiss the experts, take the contrarian position and use the dismissal as a proof-point for your own position. And of course, experts can (and are) wrong. Just watch out for rhetorics rather than a genuine engagement with a position.
(5) Outright BS
Every once in a while I hear predictions about the future which are outright and verifiably false. They violate basic physical principles, defy economic reality or are complete fantasies. Alas, if combined with rule 1-4, they can sound plausible.
The Antidote: Think (and validate) for yourself.
To sharpen your lens on the future and inoculate you from spotty claims and forecasts, simply pause and ask questions of the presented position and data. Seek out the opinion from multiple people in the space and make sure you look at the contrarian positions as well. Look at the underlying data and make your own predictions. Take a holistic view of the space and look at all the factors which drive or inhibit a particular development (STEEP is a great framework to do so).
Happy Future Forecasting!
Jane, Mafe, Amber and Pascal