Over the past year, my work as a professional futurist has continued to evolve. I now speak more often about the need for intellectual humility; spend extra time helping clients reframe old questions, as well as asking new ones; and devote additional time to the vital tasks of reading, thinking and reflecting. The reason I do these things stems, in part, from the insights I have picked from the five books highlighted below. They top my annual list of best future-related books of 2015:
“Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction” by Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner: As a futurist, I don’t claim to predict the future. I do, however, engage in forecasting. If you want to improve your ability to forecast this is the book for you because, as the authors poignantly demonstrate, forecasting is a skill that can—and must—be improved! The short, simple recipe is: Forecast, measure, revise and repeat.
Other worthwhile suggestions for improving your forecasting skills include: 1) Recognize what you don’t know; 2) stay open-minded; 3) remain curious; 4) be self-critical; 5) work at self improvement; 6) seek out evidence that might prove you wrong, 7) keep track of your forecasts; 8) learn to say “I don’t know” and “I was wrong”; 9) “find a third hand” (by working with other forecasters), and 10) regularly make forecasts and hold yourself accountable for the results.
“A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough ideas” by Warren Berger: This wonderful book earned the distinction of being my most underlined book of the year. As a futurist, it resonated deeply with me on so many levels that I developed a new keynote presentation on the topic and regularly add key insights from the book into my other work.
There are only a few things we can confidently state about the future. They include the following ideas: 1) The future is accelerating, 2) it is uncertain; and 3) it is complex.
In short, we have few “answers” about the future. As a result, this implies that if we wish to better decipher the future we might want to learn how to ask better questions. Unfortunately, few individuals and organizations know how to do this. This happens in part because asking questions requires a lot of thinking and it’s hard work. Moreover, we are trained (in our educational and professional lives) to seek out and then “act” upon answers. There is nothing inherently wrong with this unless we are answering the wrong question! Nevertheless, we can—and must learn—to ask better questions if we wish to avoid missing out on the future.
“Non Obvious: How to Think Differently, Curate Ideas & Predict the Future” by Rohit Bhargava: Written by the author of the annual “Non Obvious Trend Report”, this book expertly explains how the author puts together his own report for the purpose of helping others do the same. Suggestions include: 1) Stay curious; 2) be observant; 3) see the world through the eyes of others; and 4) pay attention to the little things.
Even more interesting than his suggestions was Bhargava’s observation that the trick to effective trend reporting is less about finding a needle in a haystack and more about “placing the needle in the haystack.” In essence, Bhargava is implying that the art of trend reporting rests upon succinctly curating insights for people who are inundated and overloaded with information.
The second half of the book highlights the author’s own 2015 Non Obvious Trend Report. In a helpful fashion, Bhargava explains each trend, discusses why it matters, and concludes by outlining who should use each trend and how they should use it. For anyone in the “trend” business, I strongly recommend this book.
“Zero to One: Notes on Startup, Or How to Build the Future” by Peter Thiel (with Blake Masters): This inspiring book begins with this provocative question: “What important truth do very few people agree with you?” The author goes on to outline why your likely response is a bad one. If that idea offends you, then this book isn’t for you because Thiel’s main point is if you want to create a big and bold future you must engage in the difficult tasks of thinking for yourself and thinking differently.
Along the way, Thiel also offers constructive advice on how to think contrarily, as well as provide insights on how to start a great new business. If you’re looking for a CliffNotes version of what makes a great company, here it is in the author’s own words: “A great company is a conspiracy to change the world.” If you are harboring conspiratorial ideas about making the world a better place, pick up this book!
Exponential Organizations: Why New Organizations Are Ten Times Better, Faster, and Cheaper Than Yours (And What To Do About It) by Salim Ismail (with Michael S. Malone and Yuri Van Geest): If Thiel’s book explains how to build a great company geared toward the future, Ismail’s book describes why this will become increasingly important in the future.
To begin, the author notes that the average lifespan of an S&P company has decreased–from 67 years in 1920, to less than 15 years today–and it is getting shorter. Secondly, advances in computer processing power, data storage, bandwidth, DNA sequences, robotics and drones, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, Big Data, the Internet of Things and wearable technologies are continuing to accelerate at breakneck speed and are disrupting “business as usual” as they do.
For any executive, or organization, interested in “future-proofing” itself against the tides of tomorrow, this book serves as an excellent primer.