How to Predict the Future

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Adam Tiouririne Adam Tiouririne | Bio | Posts
24 Sep 2014 | 9:40AM

On the morning of Scotland’s independence referendum last week, I made a public prediction:

And sure enough, Scotland voted to stay in the United Kingdom. But the point of this post isn’t to toot my own bagpipes. It’s this:

Predicting the future is the core business competency.

It’s not just for Miss Cleo and Mr. Silver. Warren Buffett predicts market outcomes and Steve Jobs predicted consumer needs.

Predicting the future is everyone’s job. If you’re a talent recruiter, your job is to predict which people will perform well in which organizations. If you’re a stock investor, your job is to predict which companies will appreciate over which time period. If you’re an ad executive, your job is to predict which messages will convince which consumers.

At Logos Consulting Group, we help our clients predict when crises will evolve, what stakeholders will expect, and how to effectively manage and communicate through defining challenges. As an example, another shameless Twitter plug:

A few hours after that tweet, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) announced a bill to revoke the NFL’s tax exemption in light of the league’s Washington, DC naming controversy. Later in the week, USA Today and other outlets strung all of the NFL’s stumbles into one not-so-highlight reel.

If the NFL or its advisors could have predicted the outrage from Ray Rice’s initial two-game suspension, their crisis would have been averted.

Predicting the future takes three ingredients.

Experience Experience: For prediction, ditch the hair dyes — gray is good. It’s tough to predict the outcome of a complex situation when you’ve never done it before. After several repetitions, patterns become intuitive. But for accurate prediction, experience needs to be tested against research and formalized in a model.

Research Research: Research is like getting a bunch of experience all at once. Data stands in for memory, and history replaces news. It can be quantitative (surveys, financial statements, statistical analysis), qualitative (interviews, case studies, historical reviews) or both. The goal of research is to model specific inputs — ideally fewer than ten — which reliably influence outcomes.

Modeling Modeling: Every business leader lives with dozens of models. Wait, that sounds weird — not fashion models, but predictive models, or formal frameworks for how the world works. If prices go down, demand goes up; if the distance is longer, shipping costs are higher; if advertising is targeted, consumers are more likely to buy. No model can ever predict every outcome, but a good one is usually close. The key to consistently predicting the future is to craft experience and research into a model — your very own crystal ball.

And here’s the recipe.

Predicting the future involves creating a model with these three steps.

Predicting the future is the core competency for anyone who wants build a business, design a product, or manage a crisis. Or even — as in the case of Scotland — to strike it rich.

So what fortune will you tell?

Share your thoughts here, like this post on LinkedIn, or tweet @Tiouririne.

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