Can you really see further down the road?

The future doesn’t always turn out like we expect it to. I saw a perfect example of that the other day whilst browsing through a book of US advertisements from the 1960s. One in-particular (from 1968) got me thinking. It featured a photograph of a device called the Picturephone―basically a landline telephone (remember those?) linked to a small TV monitor. According to the accompanying text: “Someday [it didn’t say when] it will let you see who you’re talking to and let them see you.” Amazing!

Fifty years on it turns out the idea of being able to communicate with someone over long-distances and see them at the same time was spot-on, indeed nowadays it’s commonplace, only not with a Picturephone. Instead, we do it with Skype, Teams and Zoom, using a PC, laptop, tablet, or smartphone, those last three devices being highly portable and certainly not reliant on a landline.

So far so blah, but why mention it now? If there’s one thing journalists love it’s predicting the future, even though their predictions usually come from someone else. Like a far-sighted business expert, an all-seeing industry guru or a recognized thought leader. And while a journalist may not of have come up with a particular prediction, inevitably it becomes associated with them―not least because their byline is usually attached to the story. As for their audience, well who doesn’t like a bit of future gazing?

Given all that, no senior executive attending a company event or industry gathering should be surprised if a journalist asks them: ‘What happens next?’ The ‘what’ in question could be anything from a forthcoming change in legislation to a new business trend, or the arrival of a disruptive new entrant in the marketplace.

Should you be asked to predict the future it’s tempting to immediately offer an opinion, not least to show a journalist that you’ve got a real handle on what lies further down the road. But have you? Will the future turn the way you think it will? Are you sure? Have you supporting data, facts and context to back-up your forecast? Is it something that’s happened before and which you have experience of? Or are you just relying on a ‘gut-feel’?

Many moons ago a famous newspaper editor was invited to appear on an all-night TV election special as a recognized political pundit. However, long before all the votes had been counted, he was asked who was going to win. “We all try to be wise before the event,” he said “But I find it much easier to be wise after the event…” Not a bad piece of advice. So, if you are asked to predict the future answer with care. Above-all-else, if it’s too early to say then say so, and say why. Otherwise, risk getting it wrong. Somewhat unfairly, journalists are fond of pointing out when a prediction doesn’t come true, whilst conveniently forgetting when theirs fall wide of the mark…but that’s the media for you.