We are addicted to prediction because we want to plan for the future, and because uncertainty is so uncomfortable. But there are huge pitfalls in forecasting and it’s critical to understand how far we can rely on them. Why do they so often let us down? Under what circumstances are they reliable? How can we use forecasting well without becoming addicted to its false certainties.
However thorough our data collection, however comprehensive our analysis, we cannot predict the future with absolute accuracy; uncertainty remains endemic in our lives and our organizations. Experts in forecasting maintain that their predictions are accurate just 400 days out – and that’s the best that the best can do. For the rest of us, the horizon is 150 days. But management has depended on forecasting – planning – execution. If the first phase isn’t reliable, how do we do the rest?
THE END OF EFFICIENCY
Since the Industrial Revolution, people and processes have been managed for efficiency: bigger, faster, cheaper. Technology optimizes for efficiency too. It is the watchword of managements everywhere.
But while efficiency delivers tangible benefits in complicated environments, it plays havoc with complex ones. Being able to distinguish the difference between the two, knowing when efficiency is safe and when its dangerous, has never been more critical. Get it wrong and companies risk spending too much, amplifying endemic risks or missing huge opportunities to innovate. In today’s organizations, being too efficient is as dangerous as being spendthrift. How can you tell when efficiency is your friend – or a foe?
CATHEDRAL PROJECTS AND THE PURSUIT OF PURPOSE
“Cathedral projects” is the phrase that Stephen Hawking used to describe projects, lasting more than a lifetime, that attempted “to bridge heaven and earth.’ They are born in uncertainty and their future is ambiguous from the start. But their ambition is to last and to bring to the world something of value and impact. What can we learn from these projects about contemporary organizations: their ambition, meaning and future? Does our inability to predict the future make such projects more or less viable? If we want long term institutions that matter, what kind of leadership and followership do they require?
PREDICTION and PREPARATION
A 2-part workshop
Part 1: We can’t predict the future. Experts in forecasting say they can see reliably only about 400 days out; those less expert are good at only about 150 days. Why is seeing the future so difficult? Why are pundits so often wrong? If history repeats itself, why isn’t it a good guide? And what about the huge promise of Big Data and AI: won’t that show us where we are going?
Part 2: Once you accept that the future isn’t knowable, what do you need to do and to be? The impacts on leadership are huge, requiring both different processes and personalities. What are these – and how can you develop them?
THE FUTURE OF LEADERSHIP
Leaders used to run their organizations with a 3 step process: forecast/plan/execute – and for decades, it worked well enough. But now the future is uncertain, stakeholders demand participation and transparency and longterm thinking, while crucial, feels harder than ever. In an age of ambiguity and anxiety, what are the crucial skills and characteristics that leaders must have? What is their relationship to experts, to stakeholders, to the world at large. Where will we find such leaders and what kind of development will they require?