Jack Uldrich
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Develop a Future Bias

Posted in Future

In my 2008 book, Jump the Curve, I make the case that one strategy for “jumping the curve” and helping your organization innovate into the future is to “develop a future bias.”

A future bias is the opposite of “hindsight bias” and hindsight bias is, quite simply, the idea that after an event occurs most people take credit for believing that the idea was pre-ordained and that they knew it would happen. For instance, by 1920, most citizens claimed they knew that man would “always” fly.

Unfortunately, this isn’t true. Most people were completely blind-sided by human flight. Lord Kelvin, the world’s most renowned scientist claimed in 1899 that “Heavier than air machines are impossible,” and no less an authority than the New York Times wrote in an editorial in December 1903—just two weeks before the Wright Brother’s historic first flight—that human flight would not be achievable for “1 to 10 million years.” My guess is that if a poll had been commissioned at the beginning of the turn of the 20th century the overwhelming consensus among the American public would have subscribed to similar opinions or, alternatively, something along the lines of “If God had intended man to fly, He would have given him wings.”

In the future, as a result of exponential advances in technology, many things that sound impossible today are, in fact, not only going to be possible they are going to be commonplace. Therefore, in order to embrace this future, it will be necessary to think exponentially—and not linearly—about the future. As Ray Kurzweil says in his book, The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, in the 21st century humanity will experience the equivalent of 20,000 years of change (using the 20th century’s rate of change). What he is trying to do in an indirect way is to get people to develop a future bias.

I recently came across this photo on Digg.com that shows the world as it is expected to look in 250 million years.

I think it offers a wonderful metaphor for thinking about tomorrow’s world because tomorrow will be radically different from today. Therefore, one of the first steps a leader must take in preparing him or herself to lead an organization into the future, is to develop a future bias. To do so, it first helps if that leader can envision a world that will look radically different. Therfore, when thinking about the future, I would encourage the “Exponential Executive” to keep the above picture always in mind.

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