In the grand tradition of December blog posts, here are seven predictions for 2011:
- A niche technology will grow
- Businesses to focus less on the short-term bottom line and more on consumer needs for a long-term sustainable relationship
- Traditional media/methods will take several more steps closer to its death
- Social media will become more important within organisations
- Companies will banish silo thinking and restructure around a holistic vision with multi-skilled visionaries at the helm
- The product will be the only marketing needed
- A company will launch a new product with these precise specifications…
I think the tone and style of my predictions are about right. They run the spectrum from bland tautology to wild guesswork with plenty of jargon and generalisation thrown in.
Given how utterly useless predictions are, why do people persist? I presume they pander to people’s love of lists while gambling on their inherent laziness in not checking accuracy of previous predictions and hoping that, as with horoscopes, people read their own truths into open statements.
I’ve had the displeasure of running across numerous offenders in the past month. I won’t name check them all but, unsurprisingly perhaps, the tech blogs are the worst offenders. This example from Read Write Web and these two examples from Mashable are particularly mind-numbing in both their blandness and unlikeliness.
Living on the bleeding edge can massively skew perspective. I’m sure Cuil (remember them?), Bebo and Minidiscs have all featured in predictions of game-changing technology. In other past predictions, you can probably swap “virtual reality” for “augmented reality” or “geo-location”, or Google for Facebook or Twitter, and recycle old predictions for different time periods.
The basic truth is that the future is unpredictable. We are micro participants trying to define macro trends. A reliance on logical step-progression completely overlooks the serendipity and unanticipated innovation that characterises long-term trends, which constantly ebb and flow as tastes change and rebound against the status quo.
Take popular music as an illustration. The most popular acts of one year don’t predict the most popular acts of the following year. Tastes evolve (and revolve) with pop, rock, urban (I intensely dislike that word but can’t think of a better one), electronic and dance being in the ascendency at different points in the past twenty years.
With honourable exceptions, business and technological breakthroughs are revolutionary rather than evolutionary (note I have quite a wide definition of revolutionary). To give some examples
- 2 years ago how many people would have predicted that an online coupon site would be one of the fast growing companies of all time
- 5 years ago how many people would have predicted that a social network would be the most visited website in the UK
- 7 years ago how many people would have predicted that company firewalls would be rendered obsolete by internet-enabled phones
- 10 years ago how many people would have predicted that Apple would change the way mobile phones are perceived
- 15 years ago how many people would have predicted that a search engine dominated advertising revenues
- 20 years ago how many people would have predicted that every business would need a presence on the internet
Undoubtedly, some people would have made these predictions. But to use the well-worn cliché, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.
Despite my negativity, I recognise that there are some benefits to offering predictions. It opens up debate around nascent movements and trends and adds to their momentum, and provides a forum for authors to say where they’d like things to be in addition to where they think things will be.
If only so many weren’t so badly written.
(NB: I recognise by saying that I open myself up to accusations of poor writing, to which I fully admit)
Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/blile59/4707767185/