Better “Predicting” the Distant Future

You may be tempted to peer towards the future and predict where it will go. You’ll do all kinds of research. You’ll look at trends. You’ll look at expert predictions and forecasts. The more you do these things, the more certain you’ll feel about that future. The more certain you feel about that future, the more likely you will be to rigidly plan for that future. And that’s when you lose the future.

Despite monumental effort, no one has successfully glimpsed into the future. At least no one outside of the realm of simple mechanisms like the hands of clocks and the movements of celestial objects. The future that matters to most of us remains obscured behind a foggy veil of uncertainty and possibility. That future is too complicated, too multi-dimensional, and too complex for us to predict.

So how do you set yourself up to succeed in such a future? For the more ambitious, how do you build the distant future? For the maniacally ambitious, how do you impose your will on that distant future? You don’t, at least not from where you are today. But you can improve your odds of building that future or being able to impose your will on that far away future. To do so requires two things.

First, you have to turn your attention to the shortest time horizons.

Second, you have to be flexible, so that you can be opportunistic.

The fog that shrouds the future lifts only as it becomes the present. That means if you have a long term goal, how you get to it can’t be determined very far in advance. The further out from the present, the denser the fog. You can of course plot a course to an invisible point and stick to it. But your success is nothing more than a gamble.

Your goal behind the distant fog may not even exist. If it exists, it can move. If you draw a line from A (your current position) to B, there’s a chance B could be some place completely different by the time you get there. So you have to turn your attention to the shortest time horizon. You have to make yourself flexible.

That means you get comfortable with a left turn, even when you originally thought you needed to take a right to get to your goal. You leave yourself room to take a wrong turn or explore other goals. These other points, maybe C, M, or Z, could be your ticket to success in the distant future. Some may even help you get to point B. Others could be even better than B.

If a pathway looks blocked or too dangerous, you turn around, and take another. If it starts to look like Point B has disappeared entirely, you can change your goal, or explore until you can glimpse another point of interest.

As you traverse time like this, thinking on short time horizons and leaving ample room for opportunism, you do something remarkable. You better approximate the winding path to the distant future. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s really not.

If you need to trace a long winding line, what would you rather have? One long straight line? Or a hundred shorter straight lines that you can connect how you like?

Shorter lines (plans) let you be flexible. You can better approximate the “correct” path to your goal. Best of all you can deviate here and there to explore other points of interest.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t have long term goals. It’s to say that you shouldn’t have rigid long term plans. If you want to better “predict” the distant future, focus on the short term and make yourself flexible. You’ll better predict the future, without predicting the future.

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