Naive extrapolation

Yesterday, the Financial Times had a smart article about what the author called "naive extrapolation", i.e. "fastening on some current trend, projecting it forward, to exaggerated extent and with exaggerated pace".

The result of naive extrapolation is overestimation of the pace of short-run change and underestimation of the scale and nature of long-run change. None of us is very good at visualising worlds that are fundamentally, rather than incrementally, different from the one we know: and the things that change the world fundamentally are usually things that are not yet widely identified or understood.

Prediction is hard, especially when it concerns the future. It is safer, and more common, to predict the present: and such predictions are much better received, so that is what most futurologists do. The lesson for those who must nevertheless prepare for the future is to be uncompromisingly cynical and recognise that those who claim to know what the future holds reveal only their own ignorance. Listen to people who are genuinely expert in specialist fields rather than those who profess to understand how the business world will evolve. But most of all, recognise how little about the world we can ever really know.