Today, two emails have crossed my desk which have both had '2010 predictions' in them. Another email was a review of their 2009 predictions with some thinly veiled justifications about why some of those predictions didn't eventuate. Three hits on my scanning radar, and out popped the title of this post. Predictions are based on our understanding of the past and the present. They have less to do with what might happen in the future, and more to do with the writer succumbing to the 'top 10 list' syndrome that afflicts us at this time of the year. In this era of data driven decision making, why do we believe that predictions are valid when they are little more than crystal ball gazing?
Strategic thinking is taking a deliberate stance to think about what the future might bring, and then decide how to respond today. Strategic thinking always, let me repeat that, always takes the view that there are multiple possible futures, not one certain future. It involves people sharing their knowledge, expertise and informed intuition to build a shared view of what the future might bring - not will bring. You cannot predict the future, except by luck.
You have to spend time in future spaces to think about what might happen before you have any informed idea about what the future might bring. Predictions take what's happening today and say the future will be more of the same. The people who write predictions cross their fingers and hope that they won't get found out in a year's time. Predictions assume certainty, strategic thinking embraces uncertainty.
Predictions are just put 'out there'. There's no value in them except for a bit of comic relief in most cases. Strategic thinking takes informed views about possible futures and generates value by identifying a range of strategic options today to ensure their organisation is sustainable no matter what future eventuates.
If you want to think strategically, stop thinking about predictions and move to the possibility space - where you ask questions such as: What is possible and why? What does it mean for us? How might we respond? What can we do now? Predictions trigger no such questioning because their writers assume their is no human choice influencing the future. They assume the future is fixed because it will be a linear projection of today.
Think back 10 years and think about how much the world has changed since then (think about ipods and iphones, social media and the scope of the internet). Talk to your colleagues about the speed of change. Think about how the way you work and communicate has shifted. Think about what that scale and pace of change might been for the next 10 years. Then try and write 'my top 10 predictions for next year' at your own peril. Instead, write about how major trends emerging today might shape your future, and the 10 things you can do to be ready to respond quickly to however those trends play out over time.
Prediction is the enemy of strategic thinking, and the sooner we stop thinking we can fix the future, the more robust our strategic thinking will be today.