Why is it so hard to predict the future?

The future is a state that a) is not the present and b) has not occurred yet. Although it is not implied in this definition, the future is usually different than the present and the past. It doesn’t have to be

I believe that people have a hard time imagining the future (specifically when it comes to new ideas or solutions) due to 3 main reasons:

  1. Regression-to-the-Mean Thinking: In society in general we’re taught what’s predictable and most common. This is especially true with career paths. Anything that departs from that mean is abstract, hard to explain, and treated as an anomaly (true in most cases). This is why we see many people following the tried and true paths of a corporate career. They do so because it works. However, imagining anything outside of this scope is hard because we don’t have the vocabulary or mental models to really make sense of what an alternative reality looks like. Thinking about an “alternative” career path might be hard but this idea also translates into other domains when it comes to thinking about the future. It’s hard for us to think about any behavior that deviates from the mean.
  2. Lack of Analogies: We tend to think by analogy. For example, when pitching a startup idea many people say “X” is the Uber for babysitters. The problem with truly innovative ideas is that analogies don’t really fit. Entrepreneurs might get creative to make it work but in general it’s really hard to effectively compare something new to anything else. Then again, nothing is truly new so in theory it should be possible…
  3. Context Isolation: People have a hard time analyzing ideas about the future not because they can’t process the actual idea but because they fail to consider how a bunch of other factors will make this idea viable or not in the future. For example, in March 2007 the idea for Uber would have sounded incredulous. There was no ecosystem for 3rd party developers to launch apps, few people had smartphones in their hands, GPS on mobile phones sucked, etc. However, by March 2009 Uber was already a reality. How could this be?

The Takeaway

What I’ve said might or might not be true. In the end, these are just my own thoughts based on my own observations. Nevertheless, I do think that I have some key takeaways for myself from this thought experiment.

  1. Share your ideas but don’t share them too early: I want to share the ideas that I have with other people but I’ve realized that’s better to only share those ideas when I’ve given them a little bit of thought and not instinctively (for that I have these essays).
  2. Listen but don’t depend: on other people’s feedback. Be open to revising your opinions but don’t let others feedback dictate your own views. People have their own agendas and background (all of which is fine) but a discrepancy between their views and yours shouldn’t dictate how you feel and act.