It's a line I've used quite a bit in my talks: "The point of futurism [foresight, scenarios] isn't to make accurate predictions. We know that in details large and small, our forecasts will usually be wrong. The goal is to be usefully wrong." I'm not just pre-apologizing for my own errors (although I do hope that it leaves people less annoyed by them). I'm trying to get at a larger point -- forecasts and futurism can still be powerful tools even without being 100% on-target.
Forecasts, especially of the multiple-future scenario style, force you (the reader or recipient of said futurism) to re-examine the assumptions you make about where things go from here. If your response to a given forecast is "that's bullshit!" you need to be able to ask why you think so. Even if the futurist behind the scenarios leaves out something important, she or he may just as easily have included something that you had ignored. To push this thinking, it's often productive to ask:
- What would have to happen to make this forecast plausible?
- What would have to happen to make this forecast impossible (not simply unlikely)?
- What in this forecast feels both surprising and uncomfortably true?
Thinking deeply about forecasts and futurism can change your perception. Events and developments that you might once have ignored or reflexively categorized take on new meanings and (critically) new implications. You start to think in terms of consequences, not just results. Here you ask:
- Did I expect that event or development? Why or why not?
- What should I now be prepared to see happen next?
- What expected consequences or results did we manage to avoid?
Unfortunately, if you really embrace this kind of thinking, you begin to see on a daily basis just how close we as a planet keep coming to disaster. "Dodging bullets" is the top characteristic of human civilization, apparently. Welcome to my world.