Prediction, Betting, & Forecasting

My scanning turned a media story recently about two presenters on the agriculture circuit who have been disagreeing about the future price of corn, making rival predictions, and backing up those predictions with a bet for $1000. I think this a microcosm of stupidity about the future. Yes, I’m invoking the s-word here.

One of these people will be right. One will be wrong. One will win. One will lose. And that’s exactly how NOT to look at the future. Too often I’ve seen organization leadership “make bets.” They roll the dice on what they believe will happen. When they’re wrong organizations collapse, people lose jobs, and assuredly investors lose money.

Prediction and betting are folly. No individual is prescient. It is the wrong example to set. Frankly, it smacks of the same arrogance that we saw in the last presidential campaign primaries when one candidate offered a $10,000 bet on a point of policy, labeling him as elitist and out of touch with mainstream America. It’s posturing, pointless, and doesn’t help the audiences they were in front of accomplish anything about understanding their future.

Over the last 5 years I’ve encountered one of the presenters, a “futurist.” After all, the only qualification to become a “futurist” in the US is to say you are one. That goes for me too. I’ve not been impressed with that fellow’s work. My respected colleagues in the futures field don’t predict. We forecast. We engage in useful foresight that changes with time and new information to help clients prepare and take action.

I can’t accurately predict commodity prices as to specific time and amounts. Neither can the two fellows who are making the bet. But what I can do is point up the key factors to observe, outline robust strategies to take, recommend a highly probably range in which a commodity might trade. Those pieces of information are much more useful to a listener than arguing over who’s going to win a bet.