A couple goes to a fair, where there’s a large, impressive-looking machine. The husband puts in a coin and receives a card telling him his age and what kind of person he is. He reads it and gets excited. It says: “You’re brilliant and charming. Women fall all over you.” His wife grabs the card from him and turns it over. “Aha!” she crows, “they got your age wrong, too.”
It’s as predictable as champagne and the ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. This time of year futurists, forecasters, and analysts line up with the seers, fortune tellers, and clairvoyants to prophesize what the coming year has in store for us. Instead of tea leaves, animal entrails, and crystal balls, the “experts” will be using data, charts, and complex theories. And they’ll be wrong.
I keep an extensive database of failed predictions. I have collected hundreds of examples and dozens of studies showing the woeful record of forecasting. I’ll share some of my all-time favorites in my next blog post.
When I hear an economist or any other forecaster making predictions, a voice in my head says, “Yeah, right! You have no idea what’s going to happen.” These ponderous forecasters remind me of a banner my cousin had hanging on the wall in his bedroom when we were kids: “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”
Why are these self-proclaimed “experts” working for someone else or just appearing as talking heads on news networks? If they’re so prescient, why aren’t they multi-billionaires running the most successful businesses or investment funds on earth? Or if they’re altruistic, why aren’t they directing humanitarian organizations in preparation for impending famines, wars, and natural disasters?
The great British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who led England during the Second World War, wryly reflected on his frustration in getting “expert” advice: “It’s the ability to foretell what will happen tomorrow, next month and next year — and to explain afterwards why it did not happen.” British actor and writer Peter Ustinov echoes, “If the world should blow itself up, the last audible voice would be that of an expert saying it can’t be done.”
Rather than trying to guess the future, we need to build highly agile and flexible organizations to rapidly respond to and lead at the speed of change.