CHAPTER 11
Questions to Ask
of Any Forecast
This page intentionally left blank
265
F
ORECASTS ARE AN INDISPENSABLE BUT HIGHLY
patchy guide to the world of tomorrow. We take
them seriously because understanding future condi-
tions and requirements is key to future success, but
we need to assert strong independence of mind as
to whether any forecast is valid. By asking tough
questions to quickly and effectively evaluate
forecasts, we can extract the value they possess,
without being duped by bias, cowed by expert
credentials, or bamboozled by fancy software.
The remainder of this chapter condenses the
argument of the book as a whole, thematically
grouping the test questions to ask of any forecast in
one easy-reference list.
Purpose
What is the purpose of the forecast? What can be gleaned
about why it exists, who put it out, or what the intention
of the forecaster was? Is the forecast upfront about
its purpose?
All forecasting is done for benefit. By recognizing the interests at
work behind a forecast, assessing what benefit or benefits are
sought by the forecaster or whoever commissioned the forecast,
one can make a better judgment as to potential strengths and weak-
nesses. We may ask, What effect or concerns is the forecast trying
to arouse? How is it legitimating a view that the forecaster or fore-
cast organization holds, or actions it wants to take or prevent oth-
ers from taking? What future change is sought or being legitimated?
Is the forecast future-aligning or future-influencing?
Forecast benefit falls into two main categories: future-aligning ben-
efit where forecasters anticipate change in order to adapt early and
successfully to it; or a future-influencing benefit, where forecasters
are trying to influence the future. Future-aligning approaches aim
to be objective in giving their best reading of a most likely out-
come or outcomes. They may fail, but the intention is there, so, on
balance, this approach will be more accurate. Future-influencing
forecasts aim to succeed on other terms—alerting and shaping opin-
ion, changing minds, and harnessing action.
Ideally, a forecast will be clear in distinguishing between a desir-
able (or ideal) outcome and a probable one, but this is made tricky
because often forecasts contain both future-aligning and influencing
aspects, and also because future-influencing forecasts are stronger if
they appear neutral and are therefore often disguised as such. Nev-
ertheless, a future-influencing intention can be identified by asking:
266
FUTURE SAVVY
Is the forecast widely publicized? If a forecast seeks pub-
licity, it is very likely to have future-influencing intent. A future-
aligning forecast is usually a competitive document, for the
benefit of the forecasters or those who commissioned it, and
is usually proprietary during the forecast period.
Does it specify action to take in the external world? While
future-aligning forecasts often contain action recommenda-
tions, these are mainly inwardly focused, advising how to act
to promote organizational alignment with what is expected. In
a future-influencing forecast, by contrast, the forecaster in-
evitably asks the reader to act in the external world, to sign
up, speak up, or join up to help change the future.
Is it a forecast of extremes? Future-influencing forecasts
are often pictures of extreme optimistic or pessimistic out-
comes—utopias to be aspired to or dystopias to be avoided—
which are a motivation tool in getting people to join a
future-influencing agenda. The future is very likely to contain
a mix of good and bad, just like the present and the past.
Specificity
Is the forecast mode predictive—spelling out what will
happen—or speculative, illuminating possible alternatives?
Although there is some overlap in practice, forecasts divide into
those that are trying to accurately predict the future versus those
that are trying to illuminate alternatives that may arise. The former
offers the benefit of advising what will happen but it is highly likely
to be wrong; the latter offers the benefit of capturing the spread of
plausible or probable outcomes (sometimes written up as scenar-
ios) but does not commit to a clear prediction.
CHAPTER 11: QUESTIONS TO ASK OF ANY FORECAST
267

Get Future Savvy: Identifying Trends to Make Better Decisions, Manage Uncertainty, and Profit from Change now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.