Prediction is futile

I came across a great post on the 100% Open blog about predicting the future earlier on.

In the post they talk about how some predictions can be accurate, but like the 1960s graphic prediction of a future classroom above that they use an example, plenty of predictions can be pretty wide of the mark as well.

As an alternative to attempting to predict the future with enough certainty to take meaningful decisions on, they suggest the rapid prototyping approach of iterate – listen – learn as an alternative.

That thinking’s got a lot in common with the agile approach to technology development that has a lot going for it.

Instead of trying to take big decisions based on little predictions, prototyping allows you to try things, fail fast and small, and then iterate until it works.

By definition the approach adjusts to changing circumstances by virtue of the passage of time.

Contrast that with the way much of the public sector does business – fixing a view of the future in a report and recommending a path for that version of the future.

While the immediate future may be reasonably easily predicted, for the longer time frame the likely accuracy of the prediction gets less and therefore the chances of the proposed solution being the best one decline as well.

So the challenge is how do we combine the flexibility and agility of the iterate – listen – learn approach with the strictures of the decision-making processes that quite rightly govern and drive democratically accountable organisations.

One of the projects I’m working on at the moment involves just this kind of dilemma. Over the weekend I’m going to be thinking about how I can take a more iterative approach to it, reducing risk and increasing the chances of delivering what’s wanted.

This article originally appeared on Simon Wakeman’s communications, marketing and public relations blog at


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