Predicting the future

I have been procrastinating over a question asked by the wonderful Meredith Etherington-Smith, which she put to me some time ago.

Why? Because it is a very good question and it really hits the sweet spot right in the middle of this Industry:

Hi – Fascinating idea being a Futurist. What is the difference between predicting the future and predicting trends which are – if predicted far forward enough- predicting the shape and the content of the future?.

The nub of this issue is what is a trend? And what is the future?

My first response, which avoids both of these questions, is a futurist should be able to predict trends before they happen and that is the difference between a trend spotter and a futurist.

To attempt to clarify the first two questions, here is a start for now: Trends are not uniform and the distinction between drivers and outputs is important. Often change will produce outputs which counter the original trend. For example ‘the aging population’ is a longterm demographic driver, but the trend of the ‘new young’ – ‘Age is relative and I am as old as I feel’ – goes directly against this dynamic.

So yes, in a way, the future is a composite of all the trends that are out there, but the linearity of this is not given, it is very dangerous to read from A to B using trends.

I am going to have to leave it there for now because, to be honest, there’s a life’s work in this.

Thanks Meredith, a brilliant question and a fascinating area to talk about.

3 thoughts on “Predicting the future

  1. Mitch Betts @ Corporate Intelligence draws my attention to this:
    ‘Futurist Joe Coates has a chart on his Web site that compares futurists, internal staff planners and mainstream consultants for purposes of business planning.’
    Thanks Mitch

  2. Time!
    Good question. Realistically I’d say the difference is that trends tend to be 2-5 years out (max 10) and are extrapolations of something that exists already.
    Being a futurist means that you can invent things that don’t exist at all yet – which is much more fun!!!

  3. i think the answer is… ‘YES”, i can’t see a way to answer in the negative. If a trend is an extrapolation of an existing…’thing’.. it’s still the trend that makes an impact on a broader scale. As the ‘thing’ is like an earthquake in the middle of the ocean, broadly undetected, while the trend is the tsunami which is hard to miss. i think the reaction to climate change, which is probably one of the more prominent trends at the mo will outlast the 10yr limit.

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