Future Savvy: Identifying Trends to Make Better Decisions, Manage Uncertainty, and Profit from Change [NOOK Book]


Why do some business predictions seem to hit the nail on the head while others miss their mark so badly? Do some companies and analysts have a crystal ball that affords them a clearer view of the future? Or do they just seem to ride a tide of good luck?
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Future Savvy: Identifying Trends to Make Better Decisions, Manage Uncertainty, and Profit from Change

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Why do some business predictions seem to hit the nail on the head while others miss their mark so badly? Do some companies and analysts have a crystal ball that affords them a clearer view of the future? Or do they just seem to ride a tide of good luck?
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Future Savvy…will help you become a better consumer of forecasts, from economists, governments, think tanks and, yes, even journalists." The Globe & Mail (Toronto)

"a book that will make fascinating reading for anyone involved in forecasting" --Foresight Magazine

“If you care at all about preparing for the future, read this book.” -- Online Magazine

"Given recent developments in the US economy and their implications and probable impact insofar as the global economy is concerned, the publication of this book is indeed timely." -- Dallas Business Commentary Examiner

"...a guide for prognosticators and scenario planners, a set of warnings against such common errors as overreliance on numbers, overlooking your own bias, and ignoring the oscillations of history…” -- Strategy+Business

"… offers a great deal of common sense that often gets left behind in analytics and forecasting…” -- Inland Empire Business Journal

"...Gordon's book will be a useful primer and refresher on the art of proper forecasting and on detecting the artifice and subtlety of persuasion via anticipatory declaration." --Research Technology Management

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814412862
  • Publisher: AMACOM
  • Publication date: 9/24/2008
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 465 KB

Meet the Author

Adam Gordon (Cardiff, Wales) is an expert in the field of industry foresight and future studies. He has been an analyst, consultant, facilitator, and professor, and has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition and CNN World Report. Gordon writes, teaches, and trains in-company strategy teams, and teaches industry foresight methods in various prominent Executive and MBA programs around the world. He was previously a Senior Associate at Coates & Jarratt, a future strategy consulting think-tank in Washington D.C.

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Read an Excerpt


This book is about how to evaluate forecasts and extract value from them. It is written to help decision makers in commercial, policy, and nonprofit sectors, as well as ordinary people in daily life, make better judgments about predictions they read and hear, so they can appropriately plan for and profit from the future.

Predictive statements are all around us: in the newspapers, on TV, at conference presentations, in industry reports, consulting documents, think tank studies, and so on. All claim to be valid, but the record shows that few are. So while forecasts are a crucial decision-success resource, they are not in themselves valuable. they are only valuable alongside a clear way to separate the wheat from the chaff. What’s valuable is being able to critically judge this torrent of information and to be able determine which ideas are worth taking seriously—worth planning for and investing in.

This book sets out to communicate tools and approaches that the forecast consumer can use to filter and evaluate statements about the future and thus judge what the real threats and opportunities are. It summarizes and orders the problems common in forecasting, as well as best practices, so that managers and decision makers of all types may be better able to critically interact with the barrage of forecasts that compete for their attention and resources and discriminate between worthy and unworthy ones.

Teaching a Donkey to Talk: Why Forecasts Can’t Be Trusted

There’s an ancient Uzbek parable about a con man who promised a local nobleman he could teach a donkey to talk—for a large fee—but it would take twenty years. Of course, in twenty years the con man, the nobleman, or the donkey would be dead.1 Predicting is safe for the same spurious reason. By the time outcomes emerge, there is almost never anybody around to say, “Hey, that never happened!” And even where there is anyone who remembers the tarnished pearls of predictive wisdom, there is of course no penalty for being wrong. There’s no skin in the game. The predictor may feel a twinge of embarrassment perhaps, but then, who can get it right all the time?

Not only is there no recourse, but putting predictions out into the world is ridiculously easy to do. Anyone can read a few articles, gather the direction of technology and social trends, and make projective links. The forecasting field is not regulated. There is no accepted conceptual framework, accepted methods, agreed professional standards, or guidelines for application to policy or business decision making.2 There is no oversight board or council or licensing mechanism, no organization to which one must belong, no minimum qualifications, no agreed or standard curriculum in teaching forecasting. Anyone with a keyboard or a microphone, it seems, is welcome to babble on about digital media or nanotechnology or climate change or any other hobby horse, and before we know it, we are knee-deep in predictive wishful thinking, scare-mongering, or blatant self-promotion, much of which is not worth our attention.

Part of the lack of standardization means there is no agreed definition of terms. In this book, I’ve used forecasting, foresight, predictions, and future studies more or less interchangeably to refer to works that look to and try to interpret the future. Some analysts use “forecasting” to refer to technical mathematical approaches, and “foresight” to refer to more impressionistic approaches.

Why We Don’t Ignore Forecasts: Why the Future Matters

Rapid change is a constant, ubiquitous feature of our lives. We have seen eye-popping developments across society, technology, institutions, and products and services in the last generation; this will surely continue into the future. But change is not merely interesting. It is competitive. This is because success always implies congruence between decisions and the world in which those decisions play out. If we decide today to launch a product, buy a house, study for a degree, build a new light rail system, or take any similar decision of significance, the environment of tomorrow will be a key factor in the success or failure of that decision. What we do will be tested by the future conditions that emerge. Where there is a good “fit” between the initiative and the environment it plays out in—“the right product at the right time”—we can expect success. If not, we should expect to fail. Our decisions are only as good as the view of the future they rest on. All opportunities and successes and profits are realized in the future. All threats, failures, and losses are in the future.

In a fast-moving world, we know that the future environment will be different to that of today in big or small ways. New technologies, market shifts, changes in legislation, or evolving social values damage or destroy the traditional good fit we have between ourselves and the world. To achieve “future fit” we therefore use forecasts to position ourselves and our organizations, creating (or renewing) the fit between our initiatives and environment. In some cases we may be strong enough also to influence future events and outcomes for our own future benefit, and forecasts help us do this too. Either way, the earlier and clearer we see future circumstances, the better we will be able to benefit by changing our current recipes for success to keep up with the changes in the world. The better managers’ view of the future, the better their decisions will turn out to be.

All enterprises benefit from narrowing down what they must adapt to and plan for—all effort spent preparing for a future that will not emerge is a waste of personal or organizational resources. Good forecasts are a key ingredient in limiting the vagaries of uncertainty, and therein working smarter not harder, avoiding surprises, exploiting new opportunities and plugging weaknesses in fitting in with the future, and where possible influencing the future to suit the organization. This is true not only of business. People and institutions of all types position themselves for success by anticipating and adapting to events, or shaping them. Whether it is an NGO raising money for developing-world children, an urban planner advocating a light rail system, a homeowner deciding to sell a house, or a student making a career choice, identical principles apply—a higher-quality reading of the future operating environment in which these decisions will play out is what separates winners from losers. We should all be vitally concerned with forecasts as we are all effectively betting significant resources on their validity.

So, as individuals and organizations, we are all faced with the task of grappling with the changing world under competitive conditions. Little surprise, then, that we appear “hard-wired” to seek information about changing circumstances and manifest a desire to peer ahead or absorb the insight of those who do. To be competitive we must be reading and listening to forecasts and factoring them into our world view and our plans. We cannot afford to ignore the forecast chatter. This is compounded by the rapid growth of information. The days of the panoptic amateur intellect are over. There’s just too much to know in too many specialized fields. Whether we need to consider decisions concerning the future in healthcare, transport, education, or any one of a thousand areas, we find we are often required to call on specialists in those areas. Being forced to build our picture of the world on the expertise of others, we are, whether we like it or not, retail consumers of others’ forecast perceptions.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix Introduction 1 Chapter 1 Recognizing Forecast Intentions 17 Chapter 2 The Quality of Information: How Good Is the Data? 39 Chapter 3 Bias Traps: How and Why Interpretations Are Spun 61 Chapter 4 Zeitgeist and Perception: How We Can't Escape Our Own Mind 83 Chapter 5 The Power of User Utility: How Consumers Drive and Block Change 105 Chapter 6 Drivers, Blockers, and Trends 133 Chapter 7 The Limits of Quantitative Forecasting 153 Chapter 8 A Systems Perspective in Forecasting 173 Chapter 9 Alternative Futures: How It's Better to Be Vaguely Right than Exactly Wrong 197 Chapter 10 Applying Forecast Filtering 215 Chapter 11 Questions to Ask of Any Forecast 263 Further Reading 285 Index 289
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 29, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Gaining insight into foresight by better understanding forecasts and predictions of the future

    The future ain't what it used to be said Yogi Berra. Maybe he was thinking of the many failed predictions of the future that have been served up over long periods of time by futurologists, experts and ordinary people alike. Berra could have said it ain't easy to remember the future. At least not everything that is being said about it. And that may be just as well as most of it will probably turn out to be wrong. Then again, maybe not so fast. Help is here as I have recently learned.<BR/><BR/>In "Future Savvy" author Adam Gordon takes the art of thinking about the future a step further and looks at forecasting and prediction making from the perspective of being the reader, i.e. the consumer, of such information. In plain language and refreshingly free from tables and graphs, Future Savvy takes the reader through a series of forecast and prediction related problems and challenges. And it does so with a great deal of insight and with reference to many little gems of forecast failure. <BR/>Headlines like "why numbers aren't as solid as they seem", "bias traps" and "chaos, complexity and wicked problems" give you an idea of what to expect.<BR/>As I was reading through the text and recalling some predictions I myself have seen, I started to get a better understanding of why quite a few went spectacularly wrong.<BR/>Towards the end I thought this is very interesting but it would be even more so if there had been some reviews of actual forecasts as well. And as I turn the page, voilà there it is. <BR/>In chapter ten Gordon comments on six actual forecasts applying his own analytical framework. The book then finishes with a summary of important questions the savvy reader of future forecasts must ask. <BR/><BR/>While forecasting techniques at least are better than astrology and fortune telling, they seem to far from always result in reliable predictions. As Gordon puts it in the last chapter, "forecasts are an indispensable but highly patchy guide to the world of tomorrow". Keeping a copy of Future Savvy handy while reading and making sense of forecasts is not a bad idea. It would in fact be a rather good idea, if you also wish to gently step into the future guided by how others say they see it.<BR/>Some books are interesting and enjoyable to read. Some are useful. In my opinion, Adam Gordon's book is both.

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  • Posted November 10, 2008

    Future Savvy

    The premise of the book is that each of us is subjected to a lot of advice about the future, whether in the media, in our careers, newsletter, blogs, etc. Gordon¿s point is that you need to understand how to separate the good information from the bad. How to recognize bias and spin. <BR/>Gordon lumps nearly all information about trends, forecasts, predictions, market research, and other forward looking information under the term ¿forecast.¿ I found that a little jarring at first, but got used to it. He needed a collective term, and that works. He then divides forecasts into two types, ¿future-aligning¿ forecasts which help people or organizations prepare for or deal with the future and ¿future-influencing¿ forecasts that seek to influence opinions or events in order to change the future in their preferred direction.<BR/>Gordon then lays out what I felt was a good mini-course in statistics and surveys, but without numbers or formulas. Just basic `how this works¿ stuff. Easy to read and understand, while offering the tools for critical analysis of forecasts. He follows that with a chapter on how to recognize bias, both natural and intentional, then asks you to consider your own biases and assumptions.<BR/>From that background in critical analysis of forecasts, Gordon moves on to explaining some of the methods used in creating forecasts, including how to use the methods and describing their strengths and weaknesses. This includes a chapter on systems perspective and a chapter on scenarios that is subtitled ¿How it¿s better to be vaguely right than exactly wrong.¿<BR/>The final chapters of the book offer several specific examples of forecasts (including their web addresses) followed by Gordon¿s analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each forecast. He then closes with a list of questions the reader should ask (and why) about any forecast.<BR/>This book will change the way most readers look at forecasts, projections and surveys, to their benefit.<BR/>Although this book is aimed at business readers, I believe Gordon offers advice that anyone can use. We all make decisions about the future every day and we read or hear information about the future constantly. Future Savvy offers some good advice on how to filter that information and how to make better decisions about the future.<BR/><BR/>Verne Wheelwright, PhD.

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