Forecasting The Shift Age: A Look Back (Part 1 of 3)

Entering the Shift Age

Eight years ago, I first began to write and speak about the future full-time. Then, as always, I was asked about what accurate forecasts I had made. This told me that my legitimacy (to some degree) would be based upon this. I started to make forecasts.

The second thing I realized was that most people – certainly those who lead institutions and companies – are interested in what will happen six months to five years out; that is their primary focus of leadership. What might happen in 2030 or 2040, while interesting, is more futurist “locker room talk” than valid and usable forecasts. The speed of change has accelerated so much and the major variables ahead are so great that to forecast about anything past 2020 is – at best –educated speculation, rather than probable trend forecasting.

I started getting called “the CEOs futurist” years ago because of my focus on six months to five years out (and also having spoken to or advised 2,500+ CEOs, owners and C-Level executives over the past six years). This time frame was exactly what those leaders and their companies was looking for.

It’s a new year, and a time when every media outlet serves up predictions and forecasts. This is the first of three columns covering a look back at all the forecasts I have made since starting to do so in 2006. It’s time for me be accountable. This is not an exercise in self-congratulation; it is an opportunity to look back not on forecast accuracy and analyze why trends developed (or why they did not), and what we can do going forward.

Almost all of my forecasts about specifics can be found on the forecast page of my web site.

Forecast #1 (April 2006): Oil would surpass $125 a barrel in 2008

This one I got right big time and it put me on the map to some degree. I say that with subdued glee; I took a lot of heat for this, and even some outright ridicule from some “energy analysts.” When I made this forecast, oil had climbed up to $55-60/barrel. I fully believed in the Peak Oil theory and saw an inevitable spike and said it would be two years down the road. Oil reached $147/barrel in 2008. For some reason, I have been correct with oil price forecasts ever since, saying the price range would be between $90-120. Looking ahead, I see this as the price range for several years to come.

Forecast #2 (June 2006): The future of newspapers in the US would be dim. National newspapers, like USA Today, the WSJ and the NYTimes, would survive, as would papers under 50,000 circulation that serve smaller markets. The major metro papers would decline, collapse and go out of business.

This has largely proven true. The big guys have national scale and the small town guys truly serve their local communities. The middle has collapsed. This was an easy prediction to make in 2006. It would have been brilliant had I made it ten years before.

Forecast #3 (February 2007): The US election of 2012 would be very significant as those that will want to take the country back would fight and lose to those that want to face the new issues of the 21st century.

Only partially right on this one. I made this forecast before the candidates were even known for 2008; I assumed that 2012 would be the clear turning point for the country. Due to the small ball election strategies of both Obama and Romney, this didn’t happen. I was right to the extent that the party that lost this election spent a lot of time saying they wanted to “go back” to what America used to be, particularly in the area of women’s rights and birth control. This was also the year when the decriminalization of marijuana began in earnest.

Forecast #4 (June 2007): There will an explosion of author direct to consumer books sold. E-books will be more than 50% of all books sold by 2020.

This was made before the Kindle was announced, which was the event that largely made this forecast accurate. Though the forecast is for 2020, I think that we are close to 50% (in the US) already. Having seen disintermediation happening everywhere, my forecast was based on that trend sweeping across all forms of content.

Forecast #5 (August 2007): The sub-prime problem would show that the financial marketplace was now global and the problems would become global.

Well this obviously proved to be true. The problem for me was that when I made this forecast it was too late to sell all of my real estate holdings. Ouch!

Forecast #6 (September 2007): Barack Obama would become President on 2008

I made this forecast in response to the question after a speech; the whole room was clearly dubious. [This was pre-Iowa and any primary]. I am not sure why I was so clear on this, but I sensed upheaval in the first presidential election of the Shift Age, and the then Senator – and fellow Chicagoan – was the outlier of the field at that time.

Forecast #7 (February 2008): We now have “smart” phones. In the years ahead everything will become “smart”: clothing, infrastructure and our homes. All will be connected.

This is now happening across many segments of society. We are only at the beginning of living in a smart environment.

Forecast #8 (April 2008): Humanity will reach 5 billion cell phone users by early 2011.

At the time of the forecast, we had just crossed three billion cell phone users after having taken two years to go from two to three billion. The correct assumption was that the speed of cellular connectivity was accelerating. Given that one of the three forces of the Shift Age is the Accelerating Connectedness of humanity, I have always studied this number. There are now close to 7.2 billion humans and 6.1 billion cell phones. I think this 85% ratio will now be relatively constant going forward.

Forecast #9 (July 2008): Internet 2.0 equals video. Video will be the dominant content on the Internet.

This seems to becoming true, in large part due to the fact that video is so data rich, more than any other form of content. So in terms of total data, this forecast, by most estimates I have seen over the last year, seems to be at least directionally correct. A lot of this is due to the simple reality that hundreds of millions of people have hand held devices that are now viewing screens.

(This column was first published in the Shift Age Newsletter #27.)