Note — Mar 15, 2020

How Futurists Cope With Uncertainty

Useful presentation of a foresight tool by Amy Webb, well known quantitative futurist who works on “tech trends, foresight and scenarios at the Future Today Institute.” It’s called Axes of Uncertainty and Webb explains how to set up such an exercise, which can have value for companies and your personal life/career. Summarized: come up with a bunch of internal and external uncertainties expressed as the two ends of an axis; categorize them under “economic,” “social,” “technological, and regulatory, politics, activism”; set them up on quadrants.

I’m writing to tell you a simple truth: you cannot make accurate predictions describing exactly what your industry will look like in 3, 6, or 12 months. I know you’re under pressure to do that right now. Your organizations want new financial projections and accurate timetables. Your senior executives and boards want concrete answers. Your goal right now isn’t predictions. It’s preparation for what comes next. We must shift our mindset from making predictions to being prepared. […]

The more plausible outcomes you can discover, and the more flexible you can be in your thinking and planning, the more assured you will feel about your futures. That’s how you break the vicious cycle of corporate anxiety. And there’s an added benefit: if you identify existential risk early, you have time to take action. […]

A completed Axis results in a 2 x 2 matrix and four headlines describing plausible futures, given what we can observe from the past and present. The headlines will reveal risk and opportunity, help you prioritize your work and show you were to take incremental actions. […]

It can be simple and easy: if you’ve revealed a potential opportunity, do some more research and explore the idea in more depth. If you’ve revealed a possible threat, talk to your colleagues and continue to build out your scenario, allowing yourselves to take it to extremes.