How to Predict the Future (Don’t)
Nobody can predict the future.
Everybody can tell you what’s possible.
The art is in knowing what’s probable.
I’ve spent the last 10 years investing in startups, half that time as a hobby and half that time as a career, and in that time I’ve learned that most people are scared, little aliens.
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All day long I ask people what they want to happen in the future and what their plan is to make that vision materialize, and the bold and true of heart answer these questions without pause. They have studied their market, talking to customers and doing competitive intelligence on incumbents. They have timelines they’ve built, tests they want to run and a plan B and C in case they run out, or get offered a bucketload, of money.
However, the majority of tourists I meet in startup land freeze like fragile snowflakes landing on a hardened lake, suddenly paralyzed by the realization that they’re a commodity, both in how they think and who they are.
They recite the codas of cowards with confidence: “well, nobody can predict the future” and “I guess it’s possible.”
What a profound realization! “It’s possible” and “no one knows the future,” that’s amazing! How did you come to this realization, and does anyone remember the quick key for the facepalm emoji?
As a writer, I hate wasted words, and as a (hu)man of action I hate cowardice and telling comrades that which they already know is their height of cowardice.
The job of elite investors and founders is to look at what’s inevitable and build a plan that accelerates that timeline and capture the value from that compression.
Self-driving cars are inevitable? It’s possible that humans will not die from car crashes in our lifetime!? That’s obvious, so let’s focus on building a product road map with all the milestones that need to be solved to get us there, that takes into account getting massive funding — from revenue and investors — that allows us to go 10x faster than anyone thought possible, crushing all cowards in our path.
It’s possible that robots will replace back-breaking manual labor? Fantastic, let’s make a list of the 100 things that haven’t been automated and figure out which ones are most probable to solve now (Roomba for cleaning floors and Cafe X for making coffee), and which ones are most probable after that’s done (drones to clean windows?).
When I look at an investment I don’t focus on what’s possible, I focus on what’s probable.
Five years ago I didn’t ask, is it possible the world will embrace meditation and mindfulness, I asked if it was probable that a large number of people would embrace it. It was clear to everyone that smartphones and subscriptions would enable it, and it was clear that a passionate minority were already embracing mindfulness on varying levels, but with tremendous results across the board.
The fact that it was so probable made it so much easier to make that bet.
If you catch yourself, or a partner, saying “it’s possible,” that’s an opportunity for y’all to dig in and do the hard work of asking if it’s probable.
On the podcast, I always ask folks to “set a line” for when we will have some amazing outcome, be it flying cars or general AI, and the resistance I face from intelligent people is just extraordinary.
Take a moment to “set a line” or put a percentage on your claims and watch how much better you get at this game called “startups.”