Future Inc - How businesses can anticipate and profit from what's next

by Eric

                                                       
 

Some people would argue that we should not be promoting other futurists but it is our view that improving the overall understanding of what futurists do is good for all of us. Eric Garland has written a book that is like the curate's egg - very good in parts (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curate%27s_egg for a description on how the meaning of this saying has shifted over time).

The first section of the book - Tools and Techniques - has some very useful information for people seeking to understand what futurists do and some of the tools and techniques that they use. The book describes some basic tools and approaches in a very clear and entertaining way that clearly communicates what is trying to be put across. This is the strength of the book. We differ with Eric's views on experts and the future though (p76-78), where he argues that you should value expert opinions on trends and the future more than opinions from other people. We agree that experts are very important and serve a useful purpose for looking at grounding your views in data and expertise, however, there is a significant body of research that shows that experts make particular mistakes when looking at the future by being too sure of the present and possible trends. One other key weakness of the book is where Eric asked people to put themselves in the shoes of a 14-year-old Muslim from Qatar (p110). We agree that trying to get different perspectives on an issue by using your imagination is an important technique. However, looking at significant issues from the point of view of someone with a completely different culture and upbringing without a true appreciation and understanding of their viewpoint, can lead to significant mistakes in outlook. These critiques aside, we would heartily recommend that people who are interested in the subject (and we would argue this should be everyone) read this first section as long as they keep in mind that the approach and the tools described are necessarily of a simple nature.

The second section of the book looks at the future through a number of different areas such as aging, health care, nanotechnology and biotechnology. There are some very useful trends and ideas in this section. However, it is disappointing to us that more has not been made of cross fertilisation between these various areas. We strongly believe that a major value that can be gained from futurists tools and processes is at the intersection of several major trends and areas of interest. Little effort has been made to look at these sorts of intersections in this book.

Overall the book is very well written and very easy to understand which is a significant achievement in an area that is generally very complex. We would recommend reading the book remembering that it is only an introduction to the subject of foresight and keeping in mind the weaknesses that we have identified in this review.