I don’t read much science fiction, but I absolutely loved this quote from science-fiction writer William Gibson – “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” The more I thought about that quote, the more meaningful it became to me.
Someone is always on the cutting edge or, as some affectionately refer to it, the bleeding edge. Thus, the future is being implemented by someone right now. The tricky part is distinguishing between those who are changing the course of the world and those trying to reinvent the future but who have guessed it wrong.
As the saying goes, “If I knew how to make the right assessment on what was going to be the future, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here talking about it.” I do know that the most likely reason I miss predicting a trend isn’t that I can’t see it developing, but that I don’t want to accept it.
For example, I know that intellectually we’ve seen our debt explode in the last four years, and I know the pace of change has greatly accelerated in changing our society away from a free-market, entrepreneurial-based economy to more of a control-and-command style of economy. I also recognize that more and more people are relying on the government for support, while a smaller percentage are paying more and more of the tax burden.
Since the 1930s, we’ve been moving toward the European social model, which I still like to consider as an aberration that will correct itself. I keep thinking that, with each new election, each new court decision, each new bureaucratic decree, there will be a sea change that reroutes America back toward the values of our founding fathers and the principles that made this country great.
What facts do I base that hope upon? There really are none. Though the trend line seems clear and unmistakable, I still look for reasons to believe the trend will change. It is heartening that there are plenty of people talking about this situation, and we have some great cautionary examples of where the U.S. is headed if we don’t change – Greece, Soviet Union, Japan, etc. But does the resolve exist to really push back? We’ll find out.
There’s nothing wrong with identifying a future you don’t like, and working to change it. And this is at work in our industry, as well. Take our marketing system, for instance. Today, there is more accountability in our production, more interdependence, more price differentiation, more risk, etc. Among the 40 or so trends that are occurring relative to marketing cattle, I like some, and I don’t like others, but they exist nonetheless.
The hard reality about the future is that it comes in its entirety, with the good and the bad, and none of us are allowed to pick and choose. Short of death, we’re destined to be part of it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help shape what those trends and the future will be. That’s where foresight, planning and experience come into play.
While experience is integral to the process, Gen. Barry McCaffrey said it well recently, "Experience is valuable only if it's imbued with meaning from which one can draw salient conclusions. Otherwise, experience becomes imprisoning."