Back in the 1950s, seventy years ago, people made all sorts of predictions about what the future would be like. We’d have flying cars and robot maids, it was all so exciting.
Well, it hasn’t turned out quite like that.
That’s the point; the future is always different to what we expect. Sometimes things don’t materialize, like fusion power and flying saucers. Other times they exceed our wildest Star Trek dreams, like smartphones and teslas.
Take the Apple iPhone as a case in point. As leading edge thinkers, we futurists were happy to make the ‘outrageous’ claim that within five years of launch in 2007, Apple would be selling about 20-30 million units per year. Not so. By 2016, Apple had sold a cumulative 1 billion iPhones!
Arthur C Clarke warned us that technology innovation would surprise us. We tend to over-estimate what’s technically feasible and under-estimate the commercial and second order impacts. Like Moore’s Law and viral epidemics, successful innovation follows an exponential path.
And then there are the Black Swans, those random, unexpected events that change everything, forever. Often serendipitous in nature, following an accidental discovery or the result of a freak occurrence, Black Swans always catch us by surprise; only with hindsight can we say we should have seen it coming.
Which is one of the big problems with success and achievement. It blinds us to the fact that we might be following a dwindling path. Our cognitive bias leads us to disregard weak signals and re-enforce our own expert thinking. “We’re the experts, the biggest in our industry, so we must be right! Right?”
Not quite. In this uncertain and ambiguous world, the more confident you are in your prediction of the future, the more likely you are to be proven wrong!