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The future ain’t what it used ta be

We were having a debate on twitter, me and a few of my fintech pals, when one of them posted a link to this blog.   The blog is on the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) website and written by Rishad Tobaccowala (great name!), and provides a view of 5 insights and 3 predictions from Davos.

The five insights are:

  1. A point of view depends on one’s perspective.
  2. Organisations are struggling between the past and the future.
  3. Trust – if one can build it – will be a new competitive advantage.
  4. Uncertainty has always existed – but so many things are now certain.
  5. There is so much to learn, to do and to look forward to…  

The blog ends with a few predictions including the idea that Bitcoin and blockchain are likely to revolutionise money.

At the same time as debating this blog entry, someone retweeted a presentation of mine from 2010, pointing out how relevant it is today five years later.

These things are linked, as many of us are looking at the future.  We are looking at the future from different perspectives, but many of us are looking.  The big difference is how we look.

It surprises me, for example, that many of us have a short-term view even when we look long-term.  This is usually a result of looking to the unknown based upon what we know.

Now I’m not saying that I know the future – no-one knows the future no matter how confident they talk – but what I have found is that some futures are more known than others.

For example, could anyone have predicted the credit crisis?   Sure.  Did anyone?  Not anyone that anyone listened to.

What this means is that there are voices who will show the future, but will anyone listen?  I remember James Bellini predicting the internet bust in 1999, but few took notice of his words.  I remember  India’s top economist Raghuram Rajan called the credit crisis back in 2005 , three years before it occurred, but did anyone listen?

In fact, what is fascinating is that most of the issues we face today were not called by voices that were listened to, but could have been foreseen.

For example, my comment on this WEF article is that we often cannot see Political and Economic change until it happens.  The fall of the Soviet Union was accidental some would say.  No-one predicted it and it was due to the fall of the Berlin Wall, an accident in itself.

When Jim O’Neill at Goldman Sachs came up with BRIC economies in 2003, who could have predicted that twelve years later China would be the BIGGEST economy in the world whilst Russia languishes in parochialism and rigidity under Putin?

When we moved on to the CIVETS – the Economist’s acronym for the next growth wave covering Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa – that we would go through an Arab Spring and ISIS revolution.  In fact, the updated acronym MINT – Mexico, Indonesia,  Nigeria and Turkey – missed the uprising in Syria and the ISIS state as well as the Boko Haram creation of an Islamic state in Africa.

As a result of these experiences, I firmly believe that any predictions of political, regulatory or economic change are complete hogwash.  On the other hand, I reckon that you can predict a lot societal and technological change, as it is often attributed to things that have already happened.

For example, I dealt with mobile and mobile banking possibilities in 1996.  Biometrics came up, the first time, in around 1990.  Video telephony has been predicted as an intuitive natural interface since the 1950s and robots were predicted way back in the wonderful Fritz Lang sci-fi seminal movie Metropolis.

So we can predict technology developments.   Our issue is that we over-estimate how fast they will happen and, normally, underestimate the impact when they do happen.


So what’s the point?

The point is this: when you see someone predicting the future economic outlook, take it with a pinch of salt.  When you see someone predicting the future technological outlook, take note and consider if this would work for you.


About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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