Weekly Research and Commentary on the Future of Business and Technology.
The Power and Faults of Scenario Planning.
Jun 13, 2022
You heard us talk about the Chinese beauty influencer Li Jaiqi — the lipstick brother, and his incredible $2BN sales bonanza during last year’s Alibaba Singles’ Day Sale. Turns out, when you become an Internet celebrity, you paint a giant target on your back: “Li Jiaqi: China Lipstick King sparks Tiananmen questions”. We do live in interesting times…
And now, this…
Practical Futurism // Decode. Disrupt. Transform.
A couple of weeks ago at radical, we were discussing the weirdly prescient / recently famous ”Scenario Spoilers” sidebar that ran in the July 1997 issue of Wired and went viral online after a scanned version popped up last fall (worth a look if you haven’t seen it). The sidebar described 10 potential future outcomes around the world that could undermine the techno-optimistic 20-year “Long Boom” thesis that was the main focus of the issue, and while the central “Long Boom” piece (which like the Spoilers, was written by Peter Schwartz and Peter Leyden) wound up fairly wide of the reality mark by the time we actually reached 2020, the Spoilers turned out to be pretty solidly on the money — everything from a global pandemic to a burgeoning Cold War between the US and China and disruptions to the global food supply caused by intensifying impacts of climate change.
It’s fun and exciting to find an historical example of future forecasters seeming to run the table with a set of long-term predictions, but the richer opportunity here is to consider this piece (and the way we tend to process forecasts in general) against the idea of survivorship bias – the very common logical error wherein we disproportionately focus on and attempt to learn from stories of success while losing sight of base rates and the frequency of failure.
Reading the Spoilers piece back in the context of the issue as a whole and the forecasts offered in the Long Boom cover story, we get a better sense of the accuracy rate of Schwartz and Leyden in that July 1997 outing and can more appropriately understand the Spoilers as a set of hedge bets that hit when many of the optimistic projections of the Long Boom argument didn’t. Take this a step further, and we can zoom out to consider the July 1997 issue as, in many ways, illustrative of a broader pattern in forecasting across most of Wired’s history. Looking at the more routine misses rather than focusing on the comparatively fewer (but sexier) hits, we can see that the magazine’s forecasts generally erred on the side of techno-optimism and Silicon Valley boosterism historically.
Much to their credit, the editors published a remarkable 25th-anniversary essay by David Karpf arguing that the magazine had for 20+ years predicted a transformative, more democratic and abundant future that never quite arrived. The Wired of the past five years seems more aware of its historical biases and assumptions, and arguably more nuanced in its editorial approach to forecasting. By recognizing survivorship bias and learning from patterns in routine failure (rather than seeking to generalize from outlying examples of success), we can all become better consumers of forecasts and perhaps better forecasters ourselves as well. (via Jeffrey)
What We Are Reading
👂 What’s Your Listening Style? A good manager knows that listening is important, but too few people know how to listen well. Fascinating article on how to consciously apply alternative styles of listening and responding to allow for more effective and meaningful interactions. Jane ⇢ Read
😳 Thefts, Fraud and Lawsuits at the World’s Biggest NFT Marketplace A bad rep for NFT’s. Theft, lawsuits, and fraud surround the biggest NFT Marketplace who is already suffering an overall 90% market drop in sales since September 2021. Mafe ⇢ Read
🕴️ So Much for Cutting Out the Middleman Contrary to the old narrative emphasizing disintermediation, the internet in the longer-term actually facilitated the rise of new, larger and much more powerful middlemen leveraging huge network effects. Jeffrey ⇢ Read
🎰 How the Internet Turned Us Into Content Machines A fantastic, albeit a little cynical, perspective on the way we use social media today. It’s a worthwhile reflection that we shouldn’t ignore, but learn from. Julian ⇢ Read
💭 Xerox Parc’s Engineers on How They Invented the Future Phenomenal (long) read on the inner workings of legendary innovation factory Xerox Parc as told by the people who built it. Pascal ⇢ Read
🧨 Disrupt Disruption: Listen in on our fascinating (and super fun) conversation with David Siegel, CEO of Meetup.com — we talk about failing, culture, pivoting, and many other things.
Radically yours, take good care, friend!
— Pascal, Mafe and the three Js (Jane, Jeffrey, and Julian)
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