Take a look at the familiar tic-tac-toe grid to the right. In how many different ways could you make the journey? It is not common for people to guess 27, 81 or even 243. The answer, however, is 362,800. This is because the number of permutations is 362,800. (The actual number of winning or draw games is 255,168. For a more complete explanation click here.) My point is that either number is significantly larger than most people expect.
The same is true when thinking of the future. It is comforting to believe we can predict future with great certainty but as a professionalist futurist–and you may find this ironic, counter-intuitive, paradoxical or even disturbing–I make no claim to be able to predict the future.
Consider almost any issue. What factors are involved? In my work as a professional futurist and forecaster, I regularly speak about 1) technology; 2) competitors; 3) customers; 4) employees; 5) money; 6) demographic characteristics; 7) politics; 8) regulatory issues; and 9) human behavior.
In many ways these characteristics are analogous to the X’s and O’s in a tic-tac-toe game and they can play out in hundreds or thousands of ways. In fact, the real number is so astronomical as to be incalcuable because there isn’t just one technology, one competitor or one employee to be concerned with in each circumstance. There are many and each one adds exponentially to the number of new possible outcomes.
All of this is not to say that forecasting isn’t valuable and worthwhile. It is. (I wouldn’t be a professional futurist if I didn’t believe this.) Rather, I merely want you to unlearn the idea that the future can be predicted with great clarity. It can’t.
Counter-intuitively, though, you can gain a better feel for the range of future possibilities but only if you first think and long about all of the variables which can affect your future.
P.S. But, as the post below suggests, don’t forget about Black Swans.