Why predictions fail

“Don’t confuse precision with accuracy. I can be wrong to 5 decimal places…” Dr Tim O’Neil

Gartner Innovation Predictions

(Click to view source)

The image above is a great demonstration of how rubbish we are at predictions, particularly when they involve innovations. As part of their annual survey, Gartner asked CIOs which technology company has been most influential over the last 10 years? And which will be in the next 10 years?

First of all, there isn’t much context to go on from this slide. Influential to the organisation or in general? Internally or externally? Enterprise, consumer or both? You would have to assume both given the prominence of Apple alongside more traditional enterprise players like SAP yet no sign of Facebook.

Talking of Apple. Imagine if the same question had been asked in 1997, the year Apple was verging on bankruptcy and Michael Dell recommended shutting it down. Ten years later and Apple was on its second wind, but only in the world of digital music. The iPhone had not yet been announced and the iPad still three years away. What would CIOs have predicted then? I’m betting Apple would still have barely registered. Today, more than two-thirds of Apple’s revenue is from products released since 2007 and now they are considered the most influential company over the past 10 years. And everyone thinks they’re done on the innovation front. That’s humans for you. We’re great at hindsight.

The correct answer would be ‘I don’t know’. ‘Others’ is the closest option on the slide. It may come from a company that does not yet exist. But it is just as likely to come from an established player. IBM has been doing rather well establishing enterprise social tools in large corporates (the Lotus brand is in danger of finding its second wind) and leading externally with the ‘Smarter Cities’ initiative. Amazon has just announced the ability to host virtual desktops on Amazon Web Services (AWS). Microsoft will have a new CEO in the next 12 months. Who knows what the technology landscape is going to look like in 10 years time. One thing’s for sure, there’s a storm already brewing between enterprise and consumer worlds. Would you say IT doesn’t matter? 😉

p.s. I’ll stick in my 2ps worth. I’m surprised Salesforce and LinkedIn didn’t register on the slide… presumably they’re in the ‘Others’ bucket.


Rethinking education and beyond


More children will leave school in the next 30 years than have left school in its entire history
– Stephen Heppell

A great video on YouTube explores the increasingly urgent need to rethink education in a networked society:

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But there is another question that also needs to be asked – what is the future definition of work, or the ‘job’? We are seeing people increasingly having far more education than available jobs require. That doesn’t make anybody happy.

I read an interesting (worrying) comment in a book recently

Great wealth is naturally persistent, generation-to-generation, as is deep poverty, but a middle-class status has not yet proven to be stable without [intervention]. – Jaron Lanier

In the current economic climate, the government mantra is that we need economies to begin growing again. But the underlying assumption is that growth creates jobs for everyone. It worked in the past, it may not work quite so well in the future. There are currently two critical trends emerging that have far-reaching consequences for job markets: freelancers and automation. Both are being created as a result of technological advances and neither help grow or sustain the middle class that is needed for a stable society.

The Internet has made it much much easier to connect freelancers with clients for work. But most of the work being bid for is of a task-specific nature. To do well as a freelancer, you either need to be really really good at doing something (either naturally and through years of toil with a portfolio to prove it or stay in education to Ph.D and beyond as the new short cut to get started), or you need to be really really cheap. There’s very little market for those in the middle.

Advances in automation and analytics are leading to machines performing more and more tasks better than humans. Not just through efficiency but through computation and analysis. A lot of manufacturing has been relocated to countries with the cheapest and largest quantities of human resources. If many of those roles get eliminated through automation, rising energy and transportation costs could lead to the factories being relocated again for different efficiencies. What happens to the hundreds of thousands of engineering students graduating annually from those countries?

These questions are not easily answered in a blog post and plenty of books are being published that explore both the optimistic and pessimistic outlook for technology advancement and population growth. But it is not just the education process that needs rethinking.

To close out where we started, the following video was uploaded to YouTube in October 2007 with a more near-term perspective

When I graduate I will probably get a job that doesn’t exist today

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  • Who Owns The Future? by Jaron Lanier, published 2013 by Allen Lane
  • Robot Futures by Illah Reza Nourbakhsh, published 2013 by MIT Press
  • The Future of Learning, Networked Society by Ericcson, 2012
  • The Lights In The Tunnel by Mark Ford, self-published in 2009

Related blog posts

Trends in Education

A summary of videos and articles from the past 5 years discussing the future needs for education.

Ken Robinson TED Talk: Do school’s kill creativity?

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Snippets from articles

How do you best prepare for the creative age? – Hugh Macleod, Apr 2012

To mas­si­vely over-simplify, there were two main pha­ses in the his­tory of edu­ca­tion, pre-industrial and indus­trial. The first meant only the clergy and the sons of the elite were pro­perly edu­ca­ted. Then along comes the second, indus­trial phase. Edu­ca­tion on a mass-universal scale.

Per­so­nally, I had a pretty good for­mal edu­ca­tion. I lear­ned to study and pass tests.

I don’t think that’s enough any­more, as the THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS of under-employed and unem­plo­yed uni­ver­sity gra­dua­tes with good gra­des in Europe and Ame­rica will tes­tify. They pas­sed all their tests fine…

What makes a great teacher? – The Atlantic, Jan 2010

Parents have always worried about where to send their children to school; but the school, statistically speaking, does not matter as much as which adult stands in front of their children.

The New Literacy – Clive Thompson, Wired, Aug 2009

Technology isn’t killing our ability to write. It’s reviving it… young people today write far more than any generation before them. That’s because so much socializing takes place online, and it almost always involves text.

Educators take Web 2.0 to school – Larry Magid, CNet, Jul 2009

“Whether it’s a wiki or Twitter, the notion of a participatory culture–upstream and downstream–is not going away,” Chris Lehman, Principal of Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.

Why I am not a professor: the decline and fall of the British University – Dr Mark Tarva, 2007

Universities are the last bastions of mediaevalism left in modern society outside, perhaps, the church.  Like churches they attracted a certain type of person who did not share the values of the commercial world. Poor communication, expensive reading materials and illiteracy were the foundation blocks for the universities. If today we have excellent communications, free online information and general literacy, we also have an environment in which the universities are struggling to maintain their position.

The Future of Learning, Networked Society – Ericsson

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Online Education Links

What we share online in 60 seconds

60 Seconds - Things That Happen On Internet Every Sixty Seconds

For online communications in a world where information can be shared in an instant, does blogging still matter? Choose the shortest format to tell your story and work back from there to cover the different platforms where your audience resides

Neville Hobson, also known as @jangles, has posted a recent presentation to Slideshare: Is there any point in blogging? The slides are a great walkthrough the different formats now popular for communicating online and how organisations can use the channels effectvely. Also included in the slides is the infographic above. Published in June 2011 by GO-Gulf.com, it gives a real feel for the massive volume of opinions flowing across the Internet and why ‘big data’ matters. Imagine being able to mine those insights in real-time to influence decisions.

Here’s Jangles slidedeck:

And back to the question that forms the title. Is there any point in blogging? Well here I am, writing a blog post… 🙂 But the answer, in true consulting style is ‘it depends’. The overall value is definitely lower than 5 years ago due to the sheer number of blogs out there. Thanks to power laws and long tails, discoverability now has little correlation with quality of the content. Industries that benefit from visuals and location-awareness may find short format alternatives like Instagram and Pinterest of more benefit than the longer format of traditional text-y blog posts.

Two tips to get the most value out of blogging/online communications:

  • If you have to pick one medium, choose the shortest format that tells the story. Work back from there.
  • Make the content available on the platforms that your target audience inhabits.