Forecasting: With weather and business, forewarned is forearmed

While watching the live broadcast of Hurricane Irma smashing its way through Florida on CNN yesterday, it really struck me as to how powerful forecasting is, in many aspects of life.

Without the accurate hurricane forecasting models that the US authorities used to inform them of which regions needed the most urgent evacuation – countless people would have been put in harm’s way.

These days we think nothing of accurate weather forecasts, but in reality – the machines and models that produce these assessments are nothing short of astounding.

Relying on complex chaos theory and processing astronomical amounts of data, courtesy of the world’s most powerful computers – the art and science of weather forecasting saves lives and property. It’s an investment in sustainability.

Just think what would have happened in Florida this weekend without this forewarning?

Even so, however – many people feel that even more money needs to be spent by the US government on improving their forecasting infrastructure as climate change vastly increases the level of complexity that this system needs to process.

Perhaps this analogue is then a perfect segue into the increasing importance of forecasting in a business context, where the escalating threat of huge global drivers of change are having an impact on all organisations, no matter where they are geographically located.

The number and intensity of business hurricanes circulating the globe are increasing too.

Accurate and sustained models and methods of forecasting, indicating where the threats and opportunities may lie, are becoming vital for business sustainability. And BTW – that forecasting can’t just be seen as inviting an entertaining ‘trend forecaster’ to show you some pretty Powerpoint pictures and tell a joke or two once a year – it has to be grounded in science, ongoing, and should translate into carefully informing your organisational strategy as a result.

What is sadly most often so misunderstood about forecasting, and perhaps one of the reasons that so many businesses relegate ‘trend watching’ to pure conference entertainment – is that predicting the future is not possible (and BTW – the same applies to weather forecasting – even with its quantum computers and chaos math). But what you do move towards as a result of implementing organisational forecasting, is the constant interrogation of the ‘cone of plausibility’ to assist with making informed strategic decisions. No model in the world is, and ever will be, accurate 100% of the time, but developing a futures business consciousness based on the interplay and understanding of uncertainty, certainly vastly improves your ability to navigate the rocky road ahead.

As the renowned scenario planner, Kees van Heijden, said: ‘The complex nature of change means that predicting events is impossible, and is quite likely dangerous, as it implies inflexibility and a need to become locked into one specific prophecy.

Of much greater value is the ability to recognize ‘dots on the horizon’ – the signs of change that inevitably affect every organization – and to understand their significance and how the organization should adapt.’

Hurricane Irma may be moving on into the pages of history, but the future will bring many more big storms. Spotting them early and having an informed assessment of their potential trajectory is no longer a luxury, but a lifesaving necessity. It’s an investment into the future you would prefer.