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Tips for Successfully Predicting the Future


Oct 16, 2023

This blog is based on the inspiring talk by Alexander Torrenegra at PlatziConf 2022, which leads us to reflect on how we can anticipate the needs of the future and create a lasting impact. Let's explore some key tips for predicting the future successfully and leaving a meaningful legacy.

The Importance of Big Questions
It all begins with the search for answers to fundamental questions that may appear simple but can actually be the driving force behind innovation. For example, if we were to invent something revolutionary today, how would it look? What impact would it have on our daily lives? The essential thing is not to underestimate the power of these questions, and if we look back in history, we can find surprising examples of people who asked themselves these questions.
In 1996, Jimmy Wales wondered how a reinvented encyclopedia would look today, which led to the creation of Nupedia and eventually Wikipedia in 2001.
The differentiating factor for the ability to predict the future does not lie in who is smarter, more skilled, or more capable, but rather in how we generate questions and how their answers can have a greater impact—the bigger questions that can be asked. And indeed, when one asks questions like, "If today we were to reinvent the way we find information, how would it look?" Today's answer might be something like "create something resembling Google," but in 1998, the answer was to invent Google without knowing how it would be done.
Compound Effects: The Power of Time
Another tip for predicting the future has to do with compound effects. This refers to not underestimating the passage of time. Let's take an example: if someone had made the following claims about the year 2020 100 years ago, which one would have seemed real? "In 2020, there will be a lot of balloons above the clouds capturing solar energy, and with that, we will create electricity that will flow through cables into cities for everyday use" and "In 2020, all humans will have a glass box that will make them omnipresent because it will allow them to communicate with anyone in the world and omniscient because with it, they can access any type of information immediately." Which of the two statements seemed more real given the vision of 1920? They would probably have chosen the first scenario, but now we know it didn't happen, and the more unreal scenario is what actually happened. Now, we all have a magical box in our pockets that we know as smartphones. And a small side note, in 1986, someone was already imagining it.
We, as human beings, tend to overestimate the short-term impact of inventions but greatly underestimate the impact they can have over time. That's why when you want to predict something in the future, think about scenarios that are so unreal and distant because we definitely don't know how our decisions will change the course of things. In 1920, there was no idea of what a smartphone would be like, but the truth is that most of its development has occurred in the last 20 years. Now, try to imagine what it will be like in 2120; most likely, given the context in which we live today, we won't be able to easily guess what it will be like. So when you want to develop an idea, think hard because you're probably not considering factors that will eventually be influential.
The Power of Creation
The power to predict the future is closely related to creation. Ultimately, we can have many ideas, think for hours, and fantasize for a long time, but our impact will only be seen when we can create. A great example is how electric cars are currently being developed in 2023. While there is more than one company dedicated to it, their impact was only seen after someone questioned why all cars had to be internal combustion. But you might ask, "Why didn't this take off before?" In 1914, Ford was already starting to do it. Now you might wonder, "Why didn't this become mainstream?" Ford chose to invest his time and resources in internal combustion cars, and it wasn't until 100 years later that someone said, "It doesn't have to be this way; the industry can be significantly different." If it weren't for that, perhaps most automotive companies today would still be focused on the combustion model instead of pushing for alternative technologies, to the point where it becomes more accessible.
How? Henry Ford in 1914 had the option to create a future where cars would be electric, but his legacy was in internal combustion. Surely, if he had continued with electric cars, the world would be slightly better today, a few tenths of a degree cooler. But he didn't, and we can't change that. What we can do is take an idea, ask thousands of questions about it, and start creating something based on it without underestimating its passage through time, because no one knows what its long-term impact might be.
As a society, we believe that the future is inevitable, and indeed, in some cases, it is. But unless someone makes a change, that future, or that potential future, may not exist or may be slightly better for someone. What does all of this mean? Maybe many people have wanted to invent what's in your head, some have tried it, but even the answer you're looking for may be out there, but why isn't it as successful? Why haven't you heard of it before? Many people may have the same idea as you, but maybe it hasn't been well implemented. And this quote by Peter Drucker fits perfectly into all of this: "The best way to predict the future is to create it."
If you're reading this and have made it this far, how would you like to leave a legacy? Is there something you want to do right now, but you think you're too old, don't have the ability, or need to dedicate a lot of time, and your daily activities don't allow you to achieve it? Dedicate as little time as possible daily or every few days, but be consistent. You can make a significant change in developing that project or learning what you want; don't underestimate the impact your effort can have in the future by focusing on immediate rewards. Also, remember that there is always time to pursue your dreams and reach your goals, even if it seems that the path is difficult. No matter how old you are, you can always find a way to adapt your daily activities to work toward what you desire. Don't let perceived limitations prevent you from reaching your potential and leaving a lasting legacy. Keep your focus on long-term rewards and don't be discouraged by the obstacles you may encounter along the way. You have the power to make the change you desire and leave a significant mark on the world!