Hard to see the Future

Fred Wilson is a person who knows something about looking into the future. As a tech VC, Fred makes his living by anticipating what tech start ups will scale. And Fred does well at this.

But Fred has written in the past that his success rate is surprising low. If 10% of the firms he invests in scale big time, he is doing great. Many, if not most of them, do not make it.

In other words, it is hard to look into the future. And Fred recently writes that it is hard for him to look into the future. He wants to re-dedicate himself to investing in stuff that will be important in five or ten years — not stuff that is emerging now.

Two other resources on this (1) Dan Pink – To Sell is Human. Dan points out that we need people who help us see things in a new light (2) Chip and Dan Heath – Decisive. Chip and Dan get deeply into the difficulties that we all face in making decisions. All because our future vision is so weak.

BTW, this is something we all need to do in order to find meaning in our life in the long term. To do stuff that is not just fun now, but something that connects to domains that will be important over time.

So why is seeing the future so hard? The main culprit is our most used mental tool – intuitive thinking. Dan Kahneman brings this out in his Fast and Slow Thinking. Our intuition (or fast thinking) is simply a series of conclusions that we draw about reality based on past learning. Nothing new comes out of this. And yet, we use intuitive thinking nearly all the time. We don’t like doing “slow thinking” – where we re-shape our intuition. Future vision requires slow thinking. Digital Tonto has a nice post about how hard it can be to let go of past beliefs.

In other words, we will not improve our capacity to look into the future without resorting to certain intellectual tools. Scientific method has been a most valuable one. We are just limited in what we are able to discern just from what we see.

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