Betting on the future

I shouldn’t of been surprised. I’ve learnt about our inability to predict the future. But still.

“In 1980, AT&T hired McKinsey & Co—one of the most prestigious management consulting firms in the world—to predict how many cell phone users there would be in the U.S. in 2000. Based on the large study they conducted, they predicted there would be around 900,000. 

There were actually about 100 million.”

That passage is from Taylor Pearson’s The End of Jobs.

The cell phone was a disruptive technology. It up-ended so many things and nobody—not even the smart and educated people at McKinsey—could predict it’s impact. 

I quit coaching this year. I knew that sometime in the future, I’d have to choose between writing and coaching. I knew that future-me would choose writing. So here, in the present, I chose to quit coaching and focus on writing. If you know what you’ll think in the future, it’s logical to update your beliefs to reflect that knowledge.

It’s the same for disruption. If we knew when and where a disruption was going to happen in an industry, we’d be all over it. Our resources would be stacked up behind it. But we don’t know and we can’t know. That’s what makes disruption so disruptive. Nobody expects it. It catches us all flat-footed.

Except a lucky few. 

If the future is uncertain, the only thing we can do is play the probabilities. I was listening to James Altucher’s talk with Kevin Kelly. KK’s new book—based on what I heard on the podcast—is about using patterns, trends and thought experiments to predict the future and capitalise on it. That doesn’t mean learning to become a seer and make prophecies. That means using reasoning to enhance the odds of the bets you place. But placing bets, however you cut it, is still gambling. Some will win, and the majority will lose most of what they put on the table. 

So the great question is this: How do you become one of the minority who wins when the future arrives?