I Didn’t See That Coming – Do You Predict The Future?

predict the future
Somehow, CEOs and small business owners seem to think that after a great disaster has befallen them, saying ‘I didn’t see that coming’ absolves them of all responsibility. Maybe they did not see, but that is not to say that they shouldn’t have been able to. We are talking here about being able to predict the future.

Throughout history, there have been events that disrupted the way of the world. When electricity replaced gas as a means of creating light, it revolutionised the world. I suspect that there were a few factories developing a new generation of gas-powered street lamps but by and large people saw that coming.

Later on, we have a fantastic invention, the Sony Walkman. Portable music for the masses which was replaced incrementally by DVDs, then Apple iPods and finally mobile phones. Those who have produced these devices and who have supplied the music and games for them, have had to look up and see what was coming!

Who remembers Blockbuster Video? A huge chain of video rental shops that disappeared almost overnight because it was possible to stream video online.

There have been numerous cases of shops disappearing from our high street because of the effects of online shopping. This is not simply because of the emergence of online shopping but because existing retailers have not been able to predict the effects of the emergence of Amazon (and others) nor forecast the requirements of modern day shoppers. None of those that vanished seem to have attempted to predict the future.

There is a whole area of forecasting that is concerned with what are called ‘weak signals’. Imagine that you are standing on the stern of a large ship. You see the wash from the propellers and the wake left behind. After the ship has passed over the horizon a experienced old sailor might be able to ‘read’ the wake and tell you what sort of ship has passed and combine that with the tides to tell you where it might be going.

Imagine now that the whole scenario of the ship is played in reverse. As time passes, the ship gets closer until finally you can see it. As it gets closer, the signals that you pick up get stronger. With weak signals, we use a range of techniques to scan the business horizon to build up a picture of what might happen in the future. We then keep scanning. In fast-moving industries we cannot see as far ahead as say the construction industry.

Weak signals are a way of trying to predict the future and take advantage of it. But there is a simpler and less expensive way for the rest of us.

Compare those companies who ‘didn’t see it coming’, who did not attempt to predict the future, with those who are relaxing and sipping cocktails, the big difference is they aligned with emerging trends. They saw it coming just a little bit earlier than everyone else and did something about it.

To avoid being taken by surprise I thoroughly recommend that you do the following 3 things and ‘ride the curve’:

  1. Look ahead of the curve – scan your environment, identify and track trends. Increase the amount of business research you do and seek market intelligence rather than wait for it to come to you (via industry reports or briefings).
  2. Think ahead of the curve – look for patterns of change, and emerging opportunities.  Trying to make sense of every small piece of information will be too time-consuming. Ask yourself where will this trend, technology or driver be in 10 years and what might I need to do in response or to take advantage of it?
  3. Act ahead of the curve – Be like the surfer catching a wave. Don’t wait for a trend to overwhelm you, take action today. Be disruptive to both yourself and your competitors.

Riding the curve means grabbing opportunities, taking calculated risks, and turning your understanding of where your industry is going into steps that take you from where you are now to where you need to be in order to profit from change.

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