Here is the latest post by Joseph A. Maciariello featured in the Joe’s Journal series at the Drucker Exchange (DX) sponsored by the Drucker Institute. The Drucker Exchange (the Dx) is a platform for bettering society through effective management and responsible leadership. It is produced by the Drucker Institute, a think tank and action tank based at Claremont Graduate University that was established to advance the ideas and ideals of Peter F. Drucker, the father of modern management.
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“Futurists always measure their batting average by counting how many things they have predicted that have come true. They never count how many important things come true that they did not predict. Everything a forecaster predicts may come to pass. Yet, he may not have seen the most meaningful of the emergent realities or, worse still, may not have paid attention to them. There is no way to avoid this irrelevancy in forecasting, for the important and distinctive are always the result of changes in values, perception, and goals, that is, in things that one can divine but not forecast.” – Peter F. Drucker
Peter Drucker always lived in the moment. He said it was very hard to predict the future as there is much too much to take into account in order to make a prediction. One can extrapolate or extract useful meanings out of patterns and trends that you see, but I think, as Drucker did, that predicting developments in the future is not practical.
Rather than expending energy on trying to predict the future, Drucker is well known for his advice that we ought to try to create what comes next and we ought to advance the future through innovation and change. When you do an Internet search on this quote of Drucker’s – “the best way to predict the future is to create it” – you’ll see that a man named Alan Kay is credited with saying a similar thing. The difference is that Kay said, “invent it.” Kay was an inventor and a computer scientist. He invented the “mouse” for Apple. I once heard an interesting thing about him; he said that wherever he went to work he needed a shower next to his office because he did his best thinking while in the shower. (He must have taken a lot of showers!) Anyway, Kay was also known for discussing how we go about creating or inventing the future. And he focused on observation and thought.
The important thing, in terms of discerning future trends, is to realize that they’re unlikely to be discerned by techniques, and more likely to be discerned through perceptive observation and analysis. I often think of the phrase “born to see; meant to look,” Drucker’s motto. We have to get into the habit of actively looking, actively trying to see new trends. Drucker used to say that to understand what was coming, he looked out the window for things that were unexpected but happening. He would note what was happening and then ask whether this was a trend or a fad — and if it was a trend, was it possible to imagine an extension of the trend? To extrapolate the implications of unanticipated events requires a lot of thought, and it’s a lot more thought than I and many other people are able to provide given the tyranny of the urgent. Drucker did spend a lot of time alone and a lot of time reading, and when he saw something that he didn’t expect he would note it. He’d think about where the unexpected event was likely to go.
When I think about this passage and the implications for management institutions, it occurs to me that you do hear often about those who “predicted” accurately, but you really don’t hear as much or anything about those who made the greater number of failed predictions. How many times has it been predicted that the end of the world was coming on or about a specific date?
It’s important for managers to look across their business or organization, and if they’re able to spot a new trend, and the trend turns out to be real, to try to project some implications of this trend. From there they then have responsibility to plan and prepare and to create the future of the organization.
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Joseph A. Maciariello is the Horton Professor of Management & Director of Research and Education, The Drucker Institute. You can contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.