MT Masterclass: Forecasting

What is it? I knew you were going to ask that. It's only natural - we all want to get ahead of the curve, without going round the bend.

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

For those too impatient to wait for what life has in store for us, there are forecasters, those clever people who seem - sometimes - to know what is about to happen. But their reputations have taken an almighty hit in the past year or so. Hardly anyone seems to have seen the global slump coming, or to have been able to imagine how serious it could become. The short-term forecast for forecasters is not good.

Where did it come from? Pagans studied the entrails of slaughtered beasts to see what the future held. The Celts had their druids, the Romans their soothsayers. But the cynical ancients had got their number. 'Haruspex haruspicem cum videt, ridet', as they used to say: 'When one soothsayer sees another, he smiles.' Those modern gurus, newspaper columnists, try their luck, but as Sir Simon Jenkins, a leading exponent of the art, said in the Guardian: 'I have no idea what is going to happen over the coming year and nor does anyone else. The futurology game has been shot to ribbons, making fools of everyone.'

Where is it going? Who can tell? Certainly not the forecasters. But we can't wait to find out what's going to happen. There will always be a role for forecasters, even if they have to rethink their branding ('global strategist', anyone?). But if you ever find yourself wishing that you could just chuck all forecasters into the rubbish bin, along with their stupid predictions, take heart from the wise words of the great management guru, the late Peter Drucker: 'Forecasting is not a respectable human activity, and not worthwhile beyond the shortest periods.'

Fad quotient (out of 10): Steady at 7, for now. But this could change. Then again ...

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