The best way to predict the future is to invent it

Today I was reading an essay from breaking smart and I came across a passage that talked about the peril of trying to predict the future. In the passage author Venkatesh Rao argues that prediction as a core framework for facing the future is not only insufficient but also risky. Rao argues that the problem with trying to predict the future is that we can get fixated on a “particular what and when, a specific vision of a paradise to be sought, preserved or reclaimed.” This is quite an interesting approach to thinking about the future (or not in this case) because it argues that in our pursuit of understanding the future we end up imagining a version of the future that’s unlikely to be fully accurate.

The Solution

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” – Alan Kay

According to Rao the solution lies in constantly tinker with new ideas and gradually new technologies and applications will come out of this process. Rao cites Alan Kay – a very famous computer scientist – who once said that the best way to predict the future is to invent it. This quote is very powerful because it removes the burden of being right about a prediction of the future that is dependent on more variables than we can possibly consider. Instead it shifts our ability to shape the future from our ability to predict the future to our bias to action. Once i internalized this idea I understood how powerful it was because it means that there’s something that I can do today and every day in order to shape the future.

What about visionaries?

Rao’s argument about predicting the future seems to contradict our understanding of visionaries (or at least my understanding) because visionaries tend to be people that are able to successfully predict the future before others can. So how can you possibly reconcile both ideas? Although I haven’t been able to ask Rao directly I think that one way to understand how visionaries are able to “predict” the future is to realize in most cases they just don’t wake up one day for a perfectly clear vision of the future. Instead, they gradually experiment with different versions of what the future might look like, they experiment and based on that feedback they get closer to the their vision of the future.

Why does this matter?

Lately I’ve been thinking about what the future might look like in order to understand what areas and projects I should work on if I want to have the most impact. After reading this article I had to reassess my methods and ask myself whether trying to predict what an industry might look like in 5-10 years is the best way to find untapped opportunities. I do agree with the article’s point that predicting the future might be risky and I definitely agree with the Alan Kay’s quote that says that the best way to predict the future is to build it. For me the next step is to understand how to build the personal systems and “infrastructure” to be able to quickly tinker with new ideas and be able to execute on big and crazy projects that can make the future better.

If you have any thoughts or ideas on how to go about this please don’t hesitate and reach out to me.