Saturday, November 8, 2008

Future Savvy

I don’t usually discuss or review books in this space, so this is an exception. I’ve just read Future Savvy by Adam Gordon (a fellow member of the Association of Professional Futurists), and I think it’s worth sharing.

The premise of the book is that each of us is subjected to a lot of advice about the future, whether in the media, in our careers, newsletter, blogs, etc. Gordon’s point is that you need to understand how to separate the good information from the bad. How to recognize bias and spin.

Gordon lumps nearly all information about trends, forecasts, predictions, market research, and other forward looking information under the term “forecast.” I found that a little jarring at first, but got used to it. He needed a collective term, and that works. He then divides forecasts into two types, “future-aligning” forecasts which help people or organizations prepare for or deal with the future and “future-influencing” forecasts that seek to influence opinions or events in order to change the future in their preferred direction.

Gordon then lays out what I felt was a good mini-course in statistics and surveys, but without numbers or formulas. Just basic ‘how this works’ stuff. Easy to read and understand, while offering the tools for critical analysis of forecasts. He follows that with a chapter on how to recognize bias, both natural and intentional, then asks you to consider your own biases and assumptions.

From that background in critical analysis of forecasts, Gordon moves on to explaining some of the methods used in creating forecasts, including how to use the methods and describing their strengths and weaknesses. This includes a chapter on systems perspective and a chapter on scenarios that is subtitled “How it’s better to be vaguely right than exactly wrong.”

The final chapters of the book offer several specific examples of forecasts (including their web addresses) followed by Gordon’s analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each forecast. He then closes with a list of questions the reader should ask (and why) about any forecast.

This book will change the way most readers look at forecasts, projections and surveys, to their benefit.

Although this book is aimed at business readers, I believe Gordon offers advice that anyone can use. We all make decisions about the future every day and we read or hear information about the future constantly. Future Savvy offers some good advice on how to filter that information and how to make better decisions about the future.