How to Predict the Future of Business: Stop Relying on a Single Truth
I am currently reading the update of the famous 1972 publication “The Limits to Growth.” The report, published by the Club of Rome, is still considered very influential in sustainability circles – even though it was wrong. The doom predicted in the report never really happened, although its main insight—that resources are not limitless—remains true.
There have been various updates to that report over the years, with the latest version stretching the predictions out ahead to 2052. Why should I care about predictions that might be wrong again and will probably only affect the next generations?
Personally, the futures of my children and grandchildren are enough for me to care, but I also have professional reasons. From a business perspective, I want to know which factors might influence SAP and its ecosystem and what that might imply, with a very concrete goal in mind: telling stories.
Why We Should Continue to Predict the Future
At SAP I work in a thought leadership team. The term is overused but it is the best-known way we have to describe what we would like to achieve: We seek interesting ideas that we can transform into stories about IT and business—without pitching products or services. Ideally, the stories are ahead of their time and offer the reader new perspectives. If the stories prompt them to get in contact with SAP, then all the better. But at the least we want to demonstrate that SAP is thinking ahead.
My task is to research future trends. I have been doing that for quite some time already at SAP; some of my SAP colleagues may know the annual Trend Book that I have been publishing internally each year since 2007. But we need more than a collection of trends to tell interesting stories. Jorgen Randers, one of the authors of the original report and the author of the recent update, explains why we should continue to try to predict the future:
- Together as a society we can determine if there is a reason to be concerned and what to do
- We can seek our own personal answers, as we will draw different conclusions
- We can better plan investments
- Political, legislative, and social institutions can better plan their upcoming tasks
Even Faulty Predictions Are Better Than Passivity
In other words, if we want to be active designers of our future instead of passively waiting for it to happen to us, we have to predict and interpret the trends. We cannot predict exact how things will turn out, but by using all the data we have we can think creatively about it.
By that I mean that our methodology for predicting the future must change. The world has become too complex for a single concrete truth. There is nothing new about this approach; the ancient Oracle of Delphi always delivered ambivalent answers.
The latest Club of Rome report is not a silver bullet. The future won’t look exactly as the authors envision it, although some aspect will probably come true. But it provides stimulation for us to think about the future—and to create it. The first report helped found the green movement and influenced our modern thinking on sustainability. I don’t expect less from the new edition.
The Future: the Visible and the Invisible
I’m going to start publishing here on SCN about the future that we know will happen—the visible—and the one we must think about and create—the invisible. Very often it will be my personal view that I will put up for discussion. I hope that you get engaged and challenge and comment on my assumptions, as we need a diversity of thinking to creatively think about the future.