How to spot Fake Forecasts, Bad Analysts and False Futurists - secret of more accurate forecasting and of all great Futurist speakers. Shocking truth about easily avoidable Futurist errors

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Here's what I wrote for Wired Magazine (adapted)...

It is often said that no one can predict the future, but the truth is that forecasting can be far easier than you may think, because many things change more slowly than media hype suggests.  I know this from advising hundreds of the world's largest corporations on the impact of key megatrends, for more than 20 years, and from writing many books about the future since 1987.  Judge me on my own record - content on this website goes back to 1996.

I’m not talking about share prices, commodity prices or currency rates.  Anything to do with markets is as difficult to predict two months ahead as the British weather.

Every now and again in history there is a genuine step-change, for example the collapse of communism, or a global war, or the creation of the web, but such things are rare. 

That’s why most board room debates about the future are not usually about direction of a trend, which tends to be fairly obvious, but about timing or speed of that trend.

For example, I gave a keynote recently to the large Research and Development team at General Motors on the future of the auto industry.  There was no debate about the rapid growth in sales of electric cars over the next 30 years. Their budget is hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

The only real debate was about speed of the trend. By when will most new cars sold in Paris or New York be 100% electric?

And many so-called shocking events or defining moments turn out to have rather less impact than many think at the time.  


Where was the immediate financial crisis in the weeks after Brexit - so widely forecast.  President Trump is a dramatic choice of President, but was rapidly neutralised in the White House, left with little more than an ability to tinker with taxes or embark on military adventures. In both cases I correctly predicted that the short term impact would be much smaller than hysterical headlines around the world suggested.


Take the last two decades. How much has really changed in day to day life, in ways we did not expect?


The truth is that media headlines are always full of sensational stories about what life will be like tomorrow, because such stories are great online click-bait, and grab public attention, but history shows that the future reality usually turns out to be less colourful or extreme.


Of course, many things as I say cannot be predicted, all forecasts are partial insights into the future, and of course all forecasters (including me) make mistakes.  


But the truth its this: trend forecasters like myself should expect to be judged by our overall personal track record in getting things right. You can take a view for yourself because the text of several entire books is here, free, on this website. There is also a summary of a stack of old forecasts in a link at the bottom of this page.


Here are some Fake Forecasts from the last few years - I could give hundreds of amusing examples:


- We will all be watching 3D TVs - truth is that every manufacturer making 3D TVs has stopped production.


- We will all be wearing augmented reality glasses or headsets - truth is that Google Glass bombed out and died a sudden death.


- Virtual Reality headsets to play computer games etc will really take off soon - truth is that I have hardly met a single person, even when polling audiences at large events, that has the remotest interest in owning one.  These things have been around for 20 years in various forms.  Fun for a few minutes but as a lifestyle choice?


- We will all be printing products at home on our own 3D printers - truth is that very few people have any interest in doing so.  I buy and test every major tech "innovation" and I can confirm that 3D printing is, and will remain for years, expensive, boring and slow for home use.  For industry prototyping or aerospace components it has great value.


- The global recession will last a very long time - truth is that the global economy stopped growing for a few months in 2008, but throughout the last 30 years the global economy has grown in every other year, powered of course by emerging markets where 85% of human beings actually live.

Many Megatrends that drove the world in 1998 are driving the world into 2018

When I was writing my latest book, The Future of Almost Everything, I went back to read again what I had written in 1998 in Futurewise.


The same 30-50 year megatrends I described back then are continuing to shape and transform our world, as I predicted. After discussions with my publisher, I copied and pasted sections of the 1998 book right into the new one, because they are still very important.  


The point is that rapidly evolving trends are continuing to transform the world in surprisingly predictable ways. The rise of China and India, ageing of Europe, fall of telco and IT costs, rapid growth in interconnectivity, growth of global trade (despite nationalistic reactions), increase in single issue activism / extreme political movements, huge improvements in life expectancy / health / biotech innovation and so on.

Imagine someone waking up from coma after 20 years - what would shock them?

Here is an important test. Imagine that a senior executive friend of yours had a terrible accident way back in 1998 and since that day has been in a deep coma.  One day he wakes up in hospital and almost immediately asks to see you.  


How long would it take you to update him on all the most important things that have happened since 1998?  My guess is less than a couple of hours.


As a well-informed person back then, he will hardly be shocked when you tell him about Smartphones, the Internet of Things, Big Data or Cloud computing.  


He knew back in 1983 that telco and IT prices would continue to collapse, and devices shrink rapidly, and by the mid 1990s it was obvious that everything would one day be connected everywhere.


In 1997, he was using a Nokia 9800 smartphone with email, spreadsheet, word processor, SMS, browser, Apps and camera.  His teenage daughter was already used to having 16 social media chats at once, some of which were using her webcam.  


The web was already hitting retail sales, the travel industry and banking, and data was being used widely in marketing.  


People like me were already advising him that massive amounts of retail spending would shift online, and that the web would become the primary source of all information.


He knew then that China would be the world’s largest economy in the next 25 years, and that Asian nations would see an astonishing rise in middle class wealth.


He expected world population to peak at well over 9 billion by 2050, mass migration to cities or across continents, rapid improvements in life expectancy, greener energy and growing worries about sustainability.


Nor would he be surprised to learn about a prolonged global recession, or about more banking scandals, or about a second Iraq war, with revolutionary chaos in the Middle East, and many terror attacks in Western cities by Islamist extremists.  


Such things were widely recognized as future possibilities, debated by government leaders and in board rooms, and anticipated in books like mine.  He would not be surprised to see the rise of tribalism in Europe, struggles within the Eurozone, and a narrow vote by the UK to leave which was then fiercely contested.


Walk him down the streets of London, Paris or New York.  Take him to a typical office of a large company or family business. You will struggle to show him anything extraordinary – apart from people using mobile devices more often.  Today we are dressed in similar ways, do similar things at work and to relax, take children to similar schools who are learning in similar ways (apart from using the web more).


Perhaps the only thing that will really shock him is how little has changed.  Many bank branches still exist, and more cash is used across America and the EU than ever, despite predictions of a cashless society.  


Paper books still sell globally, along with physical newspapers, particularly in nations like India; sales of children’s books soared by over 17% in the UK last year, while Kindle sales flattened.  Most people still commute to work, sit in offices that look like very much like ones a decade or more ago, complain about volumes of email, and pure home-working is still rare.


Business travel has continued to grow, despite rapid adoption of video conferencing.


Cars, fashions, music styles, radio, TV soaps, global sporting events, film plots and live theatre are much the same.  Yes, there has been a shift from watching live TV, to TV-on-demand and social networking or web surfing, but such things would not be such a great surprise to him.


Most things at home are similar or identical – lights, heating, taps, alarms, microwaves, cookers, fridges or washing machines.  And they are likely to continue to look similar or identical, even when all electrical devices are networked in smart homes.


Business schools, universities and schools teach in fundamentally similar ways. The entire examination system right up to degree level is still based on hand writing (absurd but still a fact globally with very rare exceptions).


And despite all the headlines about robots taking over the world, the truth is that sales of robots in factories have grown a mere 7% a year over the last decade and a half, now growing 15% a year – rather slow compared to the explosive sales of smartphones and related technologies.   And most of those robots are working in only one sector: auto industry, on large assembly lines.


He may be a little surprised that every single manufacturer of 3D TVs has ceased production, that augmented reality devices forecast in the late 1990s were tried and spectacularly failed (Google Glass), that things like 3D printers (also forecast back then) have also bombed as domestic devices, that Virtual Reality headsets have completely failed to take off by 2017 despite huge investment and massive improvements in resolution since the devices he tried in 1998.

One of greatest delusions in human history

What this all points to is one of the greatest delusions in human history, one which can stop rapid decision-making, kill investment and stifle innovation. This same delusion can easily become an excuse for lazy thinking about strategy.


So then, we should focus with confidence on major factors which really do affect our longer term future, in particular on megatrends which really are likely to disrupt our own organization, while also addressing how customer needs are evolving today, in an agile and creative ways.  


Yes there will always be many industry disruptions and economic crises in every decade, and we should take them very seriously, with well-planned contingencies to stay one step ahead, but history shows that they can often be over-played.  

Secret of all effective Futuring

The secret of all effective Futuring is taking a balanced view: focus on major forces of global transformation, while also paying attention to potential mega-shocks and truly transformational technologies or other business revolutions.


And in it all, as history has shown over and again over many decades, the most important factor of all is often not the event or innovation or potential disruption itself, but rather emotional reactions to it.  Particularly when we are talking about the potential impact of techno-innovation.  


Does this innovation create magic for customers?  Does it really meet an important need and create passionate engagement?  How do your customers really feel about what you are developing?  Does it really matter?  How are you really making a difference to people's lives?  


And we are talking about how customers will feel in the future, in a world that they can hardly imagine today.


That's why market research is such a poor tool in this process. Market research only tells you what customers think and feel today. We need to go far beyond that to create the products and services that will really change the world in future.


If you have the answers to these questions for tomorrow's customers, your business will rule the world.


* Patrick Dixon is Chairman of Global Change Ltd and author of “The Future of Almost Everything” – Profile Books.  http://www.globalchange.com - 15 million unique visitors.  He is a trusted advisor on global trends at board level and below to many of the world's largest corporations and to many government agencies.


Need a world-class keynote speaker for your event? Phone or e-mail Patrick Dixon now.


* Here is a list of some predictions Patrick Dixon made in the past


Read his feature in WIRED magazine:


http://www.wired.co.uk/article/how-to-predict-future-past


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