We are all forecasters

We are all forecasters. Every decision we make relates to the future in some way. Decisions made in the present are shaped by what we believe or hope the future holds. To this extent, the deliberations of today are intimately tied to our thoughts of tomorrow. That is from “Thinking the Future: New perspectives from the shoulders of giants”.

How do you know

The book asks the question. How do you know if you’re thinking about the future well? There are a number of elements:

  • Mindset (fox vs hedgehog)
  • Accounting for the complexity and unpredictability of the world
  • Bread focus 
  • Not looking for single answers
  • Non-linear
  • Pattern recognition
  • Question assumptions
  • Do not take your knowledge for granted
  • Process (thinking about thinking)
  • Modelling
  • Scenarios
  • Take a stoic approach
  • Accept inconvenient truths


The essence of thinking about the future is understanding the pattern of forces propelling the present into the future and seeing where those forces can lead. Your ability to adapt and revise your plans if circumstances change. To accept that even the best-laid plans go awry. To understand that we live in a complex system where the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can, with a single beat, change the game in the universe at large.

Monkeys throwing darts

There is a problem with forecasting. We might as well trust our predictions to dart-throwing chimpanzees. Tetlock, the founder of the decision lab, studied over 82 000 forecasts over two decades to reach this conclusion. Forecasting is a bit like Storage Wars, an American reality TV show about auctioning off storage lockers where the owners have stopped paying rent.

Doubt is good

One reason is that expertise gets in the way. Fixed thinking. However, the future is driven by the principle of uncertainty. Doubt is good. Through doubt, you can balance perspectives, test multiple theories, expose fault lines in their reasoning and revise their assumptions in the face of new evidence.

Moving parts

When forecasters think about the future, they should ask themselves: Have I accurately captured all the moving parts that can affect change? For many planning purposes, knowing what is likely to happen is of some interest, but of greater import is knowing what low-probability (but high-cost or high-benefit) situations might be possible. Look for big strategy-invalidating tipping points that can rewrite the rules of the game. These are the significant moments with the potential to radically rewire the world we live in and completely short-circuit existing strategies that were based on the status quo.

Misguided Jenga

In intelligence, layering is the practice of building assessments – such as reports on the likelihood of an attack – one on top of another. One of the problems is that each new assessment does not necessarily re-examine the uncertainties and ambiguities associated with the previous one. The build-up to the Iraq War that began in 2003 was one such example of a high-stakes Jenga game gone wrong. The Iraq War provides a clear example of how misguided assumptions can shape our beliefs and lead to, or exacerbate, poor decision-making.

Risk management

Future planning is risk management. In most companies, risk management is only internal. The result is that risk management very rarely covers the kinds of external risks that come with a constantly changing world.

Fool’s paradise

The larger and more successful a company is, the more unwilling it is to change. Sheer size can prevent a company from fulfilling the Darwinian imperative of keeping up with the times and instead turn it into a member of an endangered species. It doesn’t usually happen overnight, and there is a brief period of living in a fool’s paradise. Having built his own corporate colossus, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos insists that it should always be Day 1 in the company to survive. The rise and fall of the Roman, Ottoman and British empires testify to the temporary nature of vast power.

The annual strategic workshops

Companies deal with this by organising annual strategic workshops with internationally renowned outside experts presenting the latest trends in the industry. The problem is that such functions are more of a social-bonding exercise than a space where the top brass allow participants to voice alternative views on the way forward. Any experienced therapist would tell you it takes more than one session with a patient to change their mind. The rigidity of thinking among senior executives, accompanied by a lack of questioning, means that top companies come and go like songs in the pop charts.

Instead, apply (ongoing) scenario planning

Pierre Wack is the inventor of scenario planning; he liked to call it the ‘gentle art of re-perception’. Wack felt that scenario planning could open people’s minds. Wack also realised that scenarios were not worth the paper they were written on if the decision-makers took no real notice of them. So why not explore the future by writing stories about it? The narratives must be logical, but they also need oomph. Good stories make the improbable thinkable. A powerful, vivid scenario can help create the future it sketches.

The rules

Wack always started with figuring out the factors you can be sure of. He called these factors predetermined elements, and we call them the rules of the game because they establish a firm foundation for thinking about the future. When identifying the rules of the game, you should focus on the ones that pertain to the topic around which you are constructing possible futures. Step two is to select the key uncertainties. Key uncertainties are unpredictable to varying degrees. The third step in Wack’s model for re-perception is to paint different scenarios of what can happen, using the rules and uncertainties as the basic structure.


Then pick the best case, worst case scenario or the upside, downside scenario. Look for a few outlier scenarios. Use time horizons of 1-3-5-10 years into the future. The critical question, then, is the response to the scenarios, including defining the flags or signals to look out for. Apply probabilities. Map certainties vs uncertainties (or use hard vs soft, read https://www.ronimmink.com/to-be-the-disruptor/. Check your intuition and check your heart. Read 

And always apply an ethical dimension. 


Ultimately it is about doing. Read “DO! The pursuit of xceptional execution” . You cannot plough a field by turning it over in your mind. A combination of thinking and doing is inextricably linked to lasting success in the real world. Never worry about action, but only about inaction. Movement creates the future. The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.


It is wrong to believe that future thinking has a defined outcome, like the single prediction of a forecaster made at a specific point in time. Instead, it is an ongoing activity because the future is forever unfolding before us, and we should never be so conceited as to think we have captured it fully


sensemaking cover


Sense making; morality, humanity, leadership and slow flow. A book about the 14 books about the impact and implications of technology on business and humanity.

Ron Immink

I help companies by developing an inspiring and clear future perspective, which creates better business models, higher productivity, more profit and a higher valuation. Best-selling author, speaker, writer.

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