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one way to predict the future


The desire to predict the future is usually mixed with wanting to change the future. When we hear about people wanting to change the world, or even saying it ourselves, then they are desiring to change the future- as they predict it. The message is: without us, or our proposed change, the future will be worse, grimmer, less full of possibilities. So whenever we propose a change we are imagining a possible future world without it. We are pessimistic in a way. In fact the more changes you want to make the more you are saying that the current trajectory is rubbish.

Another position is that of the change-rider. He accepts that things change, he tries to spot them and either avoid them or ride them like a wave of good fortune. He doesn’t have any belief in his efficacy. He can’t, or doesn’t believe he ‘can make things happen.’ His self-identifying image is that of greater perception, more insight than the herd.

Your position can depend on what time scale you are operating on- 20 years ahead or maybe less, or maybe more. If you an insider in a company and know its plans its probably quite easy to predict three years ahead. I remember reading an interview with a Japanese businessman saying ‘we Japanese are thinking 200 years ahead’ whereas the Americans only think 2 years ahead. Yeah yeah- but what a great way to freak out your American competition! After the slow down in Japan and its twenty year slump you tend to hear less of this sort of thing- on a par with Western comments that the business cycle no longer applied owing to the amazing financial instruments we have invented.

Enter the Black Swan theory, which effectively brings a healthy measure of humility back to the process of futurology. (Black Swan events are rare events you can’t predict like Hurricanes over Britain, stock market melt downs and the Arab Spring). Nicholas Taleb, the inventor of the concept has the view that things pretty much stay the same, or ride gentle trends until a Black Swan comes along and upsets the apple cart. The winners are those who adapt fastest.

Which brings me to the better and bigger point of predicting people rather than events. Think about it- predicting an event is almost insane. Unless you have a habit of recording your dreams and discovering (as some indeed have) they prefigure disastrous events (dreams rarely provide greed related info sadly like the winner of the Derby two weeks in advance- it seems warning dreams are there to protect life rather than benefit a few with cash ), then trying to predict events in the future is kind of bonkers.

But people are easier. People operate- usually- on cycles. You know their cycle and you can predict the kind of thing they’ll be doing in the future. Some have ‘crash and burn’ etched like Cain’s mark into their persona- deep darkness and negativity obvious to most people who meet them. There are people who consistently gravitate towards others who will do them no good. I remember watching an elderly man, who, having shunned the innocuous company my friend and I offered, proceeded to interrupt what he saw as a better conversation with an (obviously) angry man who ended up threatening to punch him. A few people have behaviours that erode any good luck they may have. Others really seem plain unlucky. Or really lucky, often allied with good timing. Some people have great promise, you know they’ll succeed- and they do.


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