LinkedIn's post Why Everyone Needs to be a Futurist contends that due to growing competition and the pace of change, everyone should spend part of their day thinking about the future.
As the title states, it even goes so far to suggest everyone should become a part-time futurist.
While most of us are in roles where we are focused on exploiting the current business model, nowadays, everyone’s job, regardless of level, is to be somewhat of a futurist who is able to foresee where the business is going and internalize the change by creating and executing their individual plans.
Because of the Internet, there are plenty of sources of trends and trend forecasts - Small Business Labs being an example.
Other examples can be found here.
But the reality is forecasting the future is not just hard, it's impossible. There are no known examples of futurists, clairvoyants or other forecasters accurately predicting the future on a consistent basis.
And if somebody really could predict the future, do you think they would share that information? Of course not - it would be way, way too valuable.
So people who are willing to share their forecasts, like we are, only do so because we know they are more likely wrong than right.
There are many reasons futurists are consistently wrong, but 4 of the most common mistakes business futurists tend to make are:
1. Overestimating the near term impact of new technologies. I often tell people trends are easy, timing is hard. Take the now hot Internet of Things. This term was coined in the late 1990's and in the 2002-2005 time frame it was a very hot trend. Everyone was predicting it was going to be the next big thing.
But futurists under estimated the lack of maturity the technology had and the effort and cost associated with deployment. By 2006 it was clear the Internet of Things was not ready. But like many trends, it's back in more mature forms and this time may really be the next big thing.
2. Underestimating the infrastructure required. Related to #1, this mistake is not understanding how much infrastructure investment or changes a new technology requires before it can be successful.
Going back to the Internet of things, it's biggest problem in the early 2000's was the infrastructure required to deploy Internet of Things applications simply didn't exist. This meant it was much further away from broad deployment than futurists believed.
3D printing is another example. Futurists have been proclaiming 3D printing will change the world in 3-5 years for about 20 years. One reason they've been wrong is the ecosystem infrastructure required to make 3D printing broadly used simply isn't yet in place.
BTW, don't expect 3D printing to change the world in the next 3-5 years - too many infrastructure pieces are still too far away. Do expect it to continue to expand the niches it's used in and be increasingly used for specialized, small batch manufacturing.
3. Underestimating the impact of human behavior. Humans, on average, don't like change. So if a forecast requires humans to change they way they behave, it's unlikely to happen quickly - if it happens at all.
One of my favorite examples of this is manufactured housing. It is much more cost effective than the traditional methods of building houses from scratch onsite.
But changing the way houses are built requires an enormous amount of change by a whole lot of people - from builders to suppliers to government agencies to house buyers. This is why it's happening at such a slow pace.
4. Underestimating the importance of profitable business models. Trends that are supported by clear, logical and identifiable business models tend to be the most likely to be impactful. This is true for most types of trends, but especially technology trends.
The reason is pretty simple. Trends supported by profitable business models see greater levels of investment, which greatly increases the probability the trend will have an impact.
The iPod, for example, was a major factor in the massive shift the music industry has experienced. This was not because of the iPod's technology. It was a major driver of change because of its profitable business model - combining the selling of the iPod with an online content store.
So go ahead and become a part-time, or even full-time futurist. It's a fun job. And planning for the future is required in today's business environment. But as you embark on this endeavor keep these common sources of forecast error in mind.
Also remember that the value of forecasting is in the process, not the forecasts. One of my favorite futurist quotes comes from Dwight Eisenhower. He said:
Plans are nothing; planning is everything.