I came across the following entry in an email newsletter I receive about getting publicity for your business (the newsletter is great, so go to Publicity Hound if you need this type of info). I've deleted the names: 3. Dust Off Your Crystal Ball =========================================

Thanks to xxx for reminding us in her excellent ezine that it's time for Hounds everywhere to drag out the crystal ball, make predictions for 2008, and then pitch them to the media.

xxx writes:

"From mid-December through mid-January, the media like to do stories about predictions. This publicity window is all the more promising because traditional news usually becomes sparse this time of year.

"Issue a press release about just one provocative prediction for your industry--or a round number of them, like 10.

"Can't think up serious predictions? Then create some tongue-in- cheek ones.

"Can't see the future clearly? Then dig up predictions from 5, 10 or 50 years ago and discuss why they got it wrong or right."

I had to respond given that I think the word prediction is one we should try not to use, and I did as follows:

I am enjoying receiving your weekly newsletter; it’s helping me prepare to get started on my own business and to position myself better in my market. But, I had to drop you a line about your item in the last newsletter about crystal ball gazing. My comments are not directly related to publicity, but read on and you’ll see why I had to respond.

My business is called Thinking Futures (http://thinkingfutures.net), and it’s focused around helping people to think long term and to build stronger strategy today. One of my biggest challenges in getting people to think seriously about the future (10-20 years out, not next year) is to move them beyond what I call the ‘prediction phase’ – where no one takes the future seriously, because you can’t predict it and you can’t be certain about what’s going to happen tomorrow, let alone in a year’s time. They say, what’s the point of thinking about the future, or trying to influence it, particularly when I’m so busy today and those people who do try to predict it get it wrong most of the time? The point of long term thinking though, is not to get the future right through prediction (because you can’t, except by luck), but instead to avoid getting the future wrong, to be ready for whatever happens, and to ensure you don’t end up in someone else’s future by mistake. So, I try not to talk about crystal balls, but rather about helping people to change the way they think about the future and to move from prediction to exploring what might be – which is why I had to comment on your item. I think we should just ban predictions, because they are a waste of our time and energy.

Now, if the predictions are all a bit of a fun, then okay, but if you are trying to be taken seriously in your business, the last thing I’d be doing is telling a news outlet that I know how to predict the future – because, nine times out of ten, in a year’s time, they can report on how badly I did – and surely that’s not good publicity! I’d rather talk about the 10 most important trends likely to affect my industry next year (that allows for exploration rather than certainty).

If anyone can write a prediction or two, then why do some futurists even bother claiming it as a specialist skill they have? I think linking prediction with the future is a bit of an oxymoron, and like futurology, is a term that the futures field is better off without. Predictions are a waste of time and energy, and do little more than encourage people to think short term. They are clearly not a useful or grounded futures tool.

We'd be better off talking about forecasts rather than predictions, because there is a clear element of uncertainty in forecasting - we can estimate (or guesstimate depending on the quality of the data you have), but relying on a forecast to make strategic decisions today is generally considered to be unwise (it's the equivalent to betting the farm on a single outcome). You have to involve people in interpreting the forecast, and you have to do that interpretation in the broader context of what the future might hold for your organisation - then it's useful.

So, let's move beyond prediction - today!