Friday, July 04, 2008

Is predicting the future really worthwhile?

Predicting the future, also called forecasting, is a popular business activity. Some managers want to know what the future holds so they can plan to accommodate it.

Yet I'm reminded by The Oil Drum: Europe's The Fantasy World of the UK Government that our record in forecasting isn't so great.

In that report, the U.K. government published a prediction on May 7, 2008 that gave four oil price scenarios. In the highest of the four, the "high high scenario," the price of oil hits $107 per barrel in 2010 and stabilizes at $150 per barrel by 2015.

As of my writing this, shows crude oil spot prices ranging from $138.96 to $152.58.

In 58 days, we've hit the prices they forecast for 7 years in the future.

Instead of predicting the future and then designing a business system to work well if the prediction is true, wouldn't it be better to design a business system that responds appropriately to whatever the future brings?

Isn't that hard? Yes, but so, apparently, is prediction.

That's one of the goals of system dynamics: to give us models which we can test against multiple futures to see if our modeled business systems work as well as we'd like independently of the outside environment. Once we are satisfied with the insights we've gained from modeling, we can implement our real business system with higher confidence it will work as we expect no matter what the future throws at it.

If you'd like to talk about such adaptive business systems, give me a call.

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Blogger Bill Harris said...

I've referred a couple of people to this entry and mentioned they may also like the related A manager's job entry. Perhaps it's easier to mention that here so that all of you can find it easily.

30 July, 2008 20:18  

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