Story and Strategy Blog

What's the value of predictions?

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We all love predictions – especially at this time of year. I’ve made my own in the past (mostly wrong) and was about to set out some for 2019. But I checked myself and asked, why? After all, I’m not that qualified. Although I speak to many people in the tech industry, read a great deal about it, and speak with journalists and other influencers – I don’t have an inside track on what innovations are just around the corner. But then few of us do.

People do love predictions. They show clear progress towards a better future; new things are interesting and we all like to believe that solutions to whatever problems we have are around the corner. Perhaps they make us feel a little bit more in control. They are also eminently shareable, form the basis of debate and are generally good content for publishers.

What predictions allow people to do is create interest, build brand and engagement, without having new products to announce or any other real ‘news’ to share. I have counselled many a tech leader to make predications as a way of building personal and corporate profile safe in the knowledge that, if done sensibly, no one will ever come back to challenge them.

And that is perhaps the issue with most predictions – there is no real commitment to them. Even those like Gartner, who make a business of predictions, hedge their bets so as not to paint a target on themselves. This Forbes article on Gartner from 2017 makes the point well. Those that are willing to be definitive by their nature tend to have deep knowledge and therefore are very specific and usually closely related to products or services from the company making the prediction. (eg Elon Musk’s predictions about colonising Mars, etc). A combination of ‘well you would say that’ and pure wishful thinking taints these.

But the tech industry faces a dilemma. In order to remain in people’s news feeds, and in front of investors’ eyes, they must always have something to say. Everyone must be seen as an innovator (and a disruptor!?) but product development takes time, and there are false dawns, wrong-turns and unforeseen pivots in strategy. If you are not going to make meaningless predictions, then what do you say to maintain profile without creating problems for yourself?

In my opinion, the answer is to look outside. All technology happens in context. Products were innovated to solve a problem or deliver a new value. Taking time to look up from the nitty gritty of product development, sales and the day to day realities of getting products to market, will unearth opportunities to talk about the wider trends that impact your customers and their engagement with your products.

This broader palette of debate will not only provide opportunity to communicate regularly but adds the colour and variety that will make you interesting, different and approachable. Stakeholders will understand more about you, and see your through lenses other than your most recent product or stock price. Not only will this build engagement, but also stability and resilience for times when news is bad. It could even unlock new opportunities as they view you as greater than the sum of your products. To me this is what ‘Purpose’ really means, the value you add beyond the impact of your products and services.

So, in 2019, rather than make more anodyne predictions, why not focus on telling a wider story about yourself? Look at how you and your organisation are, or can, help address the issues faced by your stakeholders day to day – find ways to add value to the debates, discussions and conversations that they are already having.

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