By Jim Burke, Partner at Supertrends Institute
People who think seriously about the future may have common traits of curiosity and creativity. They are often able to see connections, patterns and networks of effects that enable provocative and sometimes accurate forecasts of our future. Being able to do that well are table stakes for any serious futurist.
One thing is to create quality forecasts, a different aspect is how those forecasts are used, or not, by decision makers. We have heard that events like the 2007 financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic were “black swans,” low probability events that were not foreseen. In fact, there were many forecasts that pointed to both of these events. To be fair, the black swan of both events were the unprecedented government responses and stimulus packages – The actual responses were much less foreseen and almost unimagined before those events.
Some keep being Surprised
The latest huge and globally significant event is the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Many decision makers have been shocked- surprised – by the action of the Russian President and the military leadership of Russia. Until the morning of February 24, 2022, many decision makers kept believing that such an event was highly unlikely and improbable. Also, for this particular event many in the futures community had long warned of the dangers that could come out of the Kremlin, a political center not known for sensitivity to human rights, freedom, respect for territorial integrity or even for human lives.
Communication is key
Are there here any failures on the part of the futures community? Is this even a fair question? It reminds me of the old saying in Washington, DC: There are policy successes and intelligence failures. Like all adages, there is here a hint of the truth which applies to futurists and decision makers. Creating a good forecast, as mentioned above, is table stakes. The real work is being able to communicate the probability and the seriousness of the forecast in a way that is relevant and meaningful for the decision makers.
How to become a better futures communicator?
Few reading this brief article will be faced with creating or consuming forecasts that portend such dramatic economic, health, or military consequences. But many will be involved with forecasts that have shown possibilities that could have dramatic effects on an organization, a business, an agency. That demands, or at least strongly invites, some serious thought before starting a futures campaign.
Before you begin, ask some basic questions:
- How does forecasting fit into my existing organization?
- What is the business benefit (even if I can’t prove an ROI yet)?
- What are the risks?
- Can I explain this technology to my leadership in 30 seconds or less?
- Do I know who will use the forecasts?
- Can I test it without business disruption and without spending lots of money?
- Is the vendor stable?
- Will this solution scale? Can I use it to motivate and execute change?
- Does my staff have the expertise to use and manage the implications of the forecasts?
- How will this forecast affect my customers or suppliers?
Answering these questions may save you time and resources. It might even save you the pain of seeing an undesired forecast come true and asking yourself: ”Why could I not convince my leadership of this coming event”. But, if you find yourself experiencing this agony and asking yourself this question, know that many futurists have experienced the same frustration and take it as a motivator to become an even better futures communicator.
Reference: Adapted from July 1, 2008 – CIO Magazine on adopters of new technology
This article is written by Futurist, Foresight and Solutions Navigator at DeepDive Foresight, Jim Burke