Recommendation – Ignore All The 2009 Predictions

Oh goody, they are here.  Every magazine, newspaper, and most of the online publications known to man are putting together their “2008 year in review” and their “2009 prediction” editions.  What a fucking waste of human energy.

This has been one of my pet peeves for 20+ years.  For a while I managed to ignore them completely.  At some point I started getting asked for my predictions and succumbed to my ego for a few years and participated in the prediction folly.  At some point I realized that there was zero correlation between my predictions and reality and that by participating, I was merely helping perpetuate this silliness.

The energy that goes into the “year in review” and “prediction” stuff seems to be significantly greater in “extreme” (both good and bad) times.  The prognostications become stronger and bolder.  The analysis by hindsight intensifies.  I don’t think this benefits anyone.

Over dinner recently, I was having a discussion with a friend. The conversation took place in a very full and busy restaurant.  At some point the discussion turned to the sentiment throughout the United States right now and how the level of anxiety, negativity, pessimism, depression, and downright panic seemed at an extremely high level and appeared disconnected from general reality.  We talked about what “general reality” meant for a little while – both “our realities” (which are different) as well as our view of the “actual general reality in the United States.”

As we rolled through some of the discussion, I made the offhand comment that I thought much of the sentiment that existed started near the end of the summer a few weeks before the DNC.  As I thought about it more, it made sense.  For the 90 days prior to the election, all we heard and read was “things suck in America.”  Oil hit $135 / barrel and was going to go to $200 / barrel (it’s $35 / barrel today.)  Gas was going to be $10 / gallon (it’s under $2 / gallon in Colorado today.)

I was on vacation in England the week Lehman went bankrupt, AIG melted down, and Merrill Lynch got bought by Bank of America.   Amy and I rarely watch TV on vacation (other than movies) but since CNBC’s Closing Bell was on about the time we were crawling into bed, we watched it as though it was a sporting event.  Over the course of the week, we must have seen 100 different people predict 500 different things.  485 of them were wrong.  Oh – and I read Taleb’s The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable during this week and just could stop bursting out with cynical laughter each evening.  Over the 90 days we heard over and over again how much America sucked.  How many problems we had.  How everything was totally screwed up.

Of course, the financial markets have been a disaster in Q3 and Q4.  The housing bubble has finally officially exploded (doesn’t explode sounds more dramatic than burst.)  Unemployment is rising.  Credit is frozen.  Retail sales are massively off this Christmas.  All companies except Walmart are having a tough Q4.  Blah blah blah.  And now come the 2009 predictions.

My prediction for 2009 – the vast majority of the 2009 predictions will be wrong.  Ignore them. Find a Dharma that fits your Karma (more on that when I review Strategic Intuition: The Creative Spark in Human Achievement (Columbia Business School) by Bill Duggan, which I read last night.)  You get a finite number of years on this planet – make the most of all of them, no matter what is going on around you.

  • Fantastic post. The first book that came to mind when I saw this post in my RSS feeder was The Black Swan, which you immediately referenced. As humans we are really awful at making predictions and really good at looking at things in hindsight.

    Yet there is something in our human nature that makes us look for predictions, patterns, and explanations.

    In the financial world, it's analysts trying to predict future earnings and being completely wrong (Peter Lynch has a great write up on this in One up On Wall Street.) In the sports world, it's experts on ESPN trying to predict game outcomes and Superbowl winners. etc etc. In many ways, watching Sportscenter is akin to watching CNBC.

    Perhaps the easiest prediction is that we as humans will always try to predict.

  • Great post. I could never have predicted this time last year where I would be this time this year. Too many variables enter into the mix. The prognosticators assume we operate in a vacuum. Happily, they are wrong. While this does not stop them from pulling predictions from their nether regions it doesn't mean we have to listen.

  • Great Post. I couldn't agree more. I've been taught if you want do something in life the time is now. So according to that theory any time is a good time to accomplish your dream.

  • It's not the predictions that are bad, it's how people process them. A prediction isn't an excuse to not learn or evaluate a topic which is what usually happens. I'd rather see people refine their bullshit detectors and learn to take things with a grain of salt, especially since we're creatures of habit and *crave* predictability in our lives.

    • I agree well said bruce. A prediction is not an excuse it's someone trying to use information and then throw out a guess. Can't be held accountable but can only get praise.

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  • Along the same lines is this interview with Nassim Taleb: The Scandal of Prediction (http://odeo.com/episodes/1536626-Nassim-Taleb-The

  • As Will Rogers said, "It's not that people are so stupid, it's just that they know so many things are not true." Great Post…I couldn't agree more.

  • Anton Chuvakin

    >What a fucking waste of human energy.

    I disagree. I think spending time to think long-term as well as challenge your thinking by trying to extrapolate what will happen is pretty useful, whether you do it in Dec or July….

    • Thinking and planning is a lot different, intent-wise, than publishing a list of "predictions".

  • Brad- On the whole I completely agree, however, I will say that looking back on the year past is a good exercise if you do it with the attitude of, "what can we learn from 2008". I always think its a good idea to look backward for lessons and forward for opportunities.

    • Akhil

      I think awareness helps one understand and refine one's thoughts/actions in real time. Awareness is a continuous exercise and not something left for 2345 on Dec 31st. 🙂

  • Did you see my predictions from a few years ago, Brad? http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/12/p

    • Dave

      Britney Spears had a hit record?

    • You are such an amazing seer of the future. But, we’ve always known that about you. I’m especially impressed that you were able to predict in 2002 that by 2008 we would all know who the governor of Alaska is. Seriously, I love your “be ready for anything” ending as that is the only way to live life. What’s a uniform, btw?

  • Sam

    The thing I *like* about predictions is that it's one of the few times where great thinkers are willing to take risks and speak freely as opposed to writing posts that simply follow the herd or attempt to game Techmeme.

    I agree that predictions should largely be ignored but the energy and amount of conversation that surrounds them is something worth cultivating

    http://twitter.com/squasher98

    • I’d challenge your assumption that the majority of predictions comes from great thinkers. Instead, I’d assert that most of them come from journalists, hacks, and randoms. And – when the great thinkers come up with predictions, they are usually wrong anyway!

  • Tom Evslin

    What's amazing is that the press is asking all the same people who got every thing wrong last year what is going to happen this year including those who "predicted" the price of oil and the course of the economy.

    As Nassim Taleb points out, even asking those who happened to get things right doesn't make much sense. If we used roulette wheels to make predictions, most would be wrong by the end of the year and a few would be proclaimed "geniuses" and be put in charge of hedge funds.

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  • Anton Chuvakin

    >The thing I *like* about predictions is that it's one of the few times where great thinkers
    >are willing to take risks and speak freely

    Amen to that! That is pretty much what I wanted to say, but phrased way better 🙂

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  • Sam

    Fair enough…but I'd take a hack willing to put themselves — and their thoughts (brilliant or not) — out in the open for public dissection over a 'great thinker' who chooses not to have a voice any day. It's through the dissection of thought and its ensuring conversation that innovation often springs, in my opinion. Blogs can also often be stepping stones to new opportunities; the person once considered a hack may not always be thought of as such…

    • I encourage you to read The Black Swan by Taleb. He’ll change your view on the value of predictions.I completely agree with you on the value of people willing to put themselves out there for public dissection (and discussion) over someone who chooses not to have a voice. I just don’t think “the annual prediction rigmarole” is equivalent to people putting themselves out there for public discussion!

      • Sam

        I'm half way through the Black Swan…my point is really just that the spirit of free thinking that I observe during "the annual prediction rigmarole" outweighs the lack of actual prediction successes. I am in complete agreement that predictions in and of themselves hold little value.

        Have a great Holiday Brad.

      • You're such a prediction Grinch. In return of the encouragement of reading the black swan (aka an emergent system to me from environmental theory) I encourage you to read some McLuhan – particularly his Tetrad methodology – which is what he used to predict the social impacts of technology.

        🙂 Leigh "The hack who loves to predict and loves reading predictions" Himel

        • Yes indeed – my inner Grinch comes out. I have read plenty of McLuhan and I enjoy it very much!

  • I'm with you, as I indicated in my posting earlier this week, fortune tellers.

    The predictions without context are worthless. However, it is instructive to think about why the better thinkers are thinking as they are, so some prediction pieces that include an exposition of the ideas are worthy of readling. The saving grace is that usually you can tell which are which pretty quickly.

  • Jared Hutchings

    Thank you Brad. I am sure Taleb thanks you as well!

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  • Predictions do hold value, they are just not predictive — they tell you about the present, not the future. What they tend to tell you is what people are currently concerned about or interested in. This is the topic of the next LIFT conference http://www.liftconference.com/(I have no interest in this) which will "look back to look ahead" — I think this should be interesting.

    The irony of course is that venture capital (especially early stage) tends to be somewhat predictive by nature. Are we lucky or talented when we spot market trends and time them correctly ? I would err on the side of the former 🙂

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  • Nigel_Eccles

    This is a call for journalists and bloggers to please not stop making half baked predictions for the new year. We run the New Year Pundit awards for the best and worst New Year predictions (judged at the year end). For 2008 one of the most hotly contested awards was the wooden spoon for worst pundit: http://newspundits.hubdub.com/2009/01/2008-new-ye

    (BTW In our analysis we have found that some people are much better predictors than others however there appears to be an inverse relationship between quality of predictions and readership. People like extreme predictions when actually more often than not the world takes the middle course.)

  • Robert Dane

    Was just wondering how long you have been online and doing this stuff?

  • 485 our of 500 things predicted going wrong were all terrible predictors. Perhaps, they were more into astrology rather than statistics, :wink

  • Ignore all? I don't even read them. For me, whatever done is done. We should try to make 2009 a better year for us by not repeating the mistakes we did in 2008. Rather than reviews and highlighting the bad decisions and predictions, they should offer advices on how to make green valley nv homes new year a better year.

  • Yeah but isn't it fun to watch so many people be wrong!

  • The first book that came to mind when I saw this post in my RSS feeder was The Black Swan, which you immediately referenced. As humans we are really awful at making predictions and really good at looking at things in hindsight.

    Thanks
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  • Of course, the financial markets have been a disaster in Q3 and Q4. The housing bubble has finally officially exploded (doesn’t explode sounds more dramatic than burst.)

    Thanks
    Gi-metoden

  • As Nassim Taleb points out, even asking those who happened to get things right doesn't make much sense. If we used roulette wheels to make predictions, most would be wrong by the end of the year and a few would be proclaimed "geniuses" and be put in charge of hedge funds.

    Thanks
    Konferens

  • The irony of course is that venture capital (especially early stage) tends to be somewhat predictive by nature. Are we lucky or talented when we spot market trends and time them correctly ? I would err on the side of the former 🙂

    Thanks
    Trollbeads

  • You get a finite number of years on this planet – make the most of all of them, no matter what is going on around you.

    Cheers!
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  • I'm partly surprised that the marketing geeks did not factor in the role of search engines and how it will influence their marketing efforts come 2009. Although social media will definitely contribute but the limitation of experience shared will not make it a reliable resource on its own yet. Much of the information and insight needed will still be searched online.

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  • Was just wondering how long you have been online and doing this stuff?

  • thank you for the information. they are really very hypocritical.

  • Yeah.. actually this whole thing about predictions is just an utter waste of time.. we're already into half the year.. n we see none of them are actually true!! atleast this proof should stop people from doing it again n again every year

  • There was also a prediction that whole world will finish on 09-09-09 but nothing happened like this.
    I don't believe them now..

  • Hey,
    Great post. I kinda stumbled upon your blog and now I've added it to my bookmarks. Interesting stuff.
    Best,
    Jeff

    Williamsville NY plastic surgeon

  • Jack
  • Jack

    The predictions without context are worthless. However, it is instructive to think about why the better thinkers are thinking as they are, so some prediction pieces that include an exposition of the ideas are worthy of readling. The saving grace is that usually you can tell which are which pretty quickly.

    Acai Force Max

  • There was also a prediction that whole world will finish on 09-09-09 but nothing happened like this.

    I don’t believe them now..

    Acai Force Max

  • I've been taught if you want do something in life the time is now. So according to that theory any time is a good time to accomplish your dream.

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  • The irony of course is that venture capital (especially early stage) tends to be somewhat predictive by nature. Are we lucky or talented when we spot market trends and time them correctly ? I would err on the side of the former 🙂
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  • Thanks for the post!

    The prediction game is a tough one, that prediction rate looks terrible but then it depends on what exactly you are predicting.

  • that prediction rate looks terrible but then it depends on what exactly you are predicting.

  • Thanks!

    The prediction game is a tough one,

  • Josh Staer

    what can one expect if they dont make the best of it? recently ive discovered that mens jewelry is growing rapidly, especially bike chain bracelet jewelry, which means that there are still plenty of ways to make 2009 (and beyond) still profitable and seasonally unchallenged. creativity and style is usually the winner, always!

  • I never listen to predictions anyway. Now that 2009 is nearing an end we can all see how off they all are

  • josh staer

    well said mr. feld.. predictions are what led to this mess in the 1st place. working hard should get us out of trouble! the best thing to do is be innovative and apply it.
    cheers,
    bike chain jewelry

  • Don;t mind me, I'm just matching links with one of my competitors. Even if they are low quality and sneaky. Oh well.

  • Seriously they could do better.

  • Great post, I totally agree that predictions are a total waste of time, I must prefer living in the now.

  • Accurate predictions are hard to come by. Even Edgar Cayce was only right 85% of the time. Unfortunately, he is dead.

  • Who can predict anything with accuracy in today's time of uncertainty? Although some did see and predict the current economic crisis.

  • The real question is, who can predict us out of this recession? How will it end? Are we headed up or further down?

  • I stopped watching the news and reading the paper years ago. The negativity drains all of the enthusiasm for life out of you. Here we are in 2010 now and they are still predicting doom and gloom. Sure its tough out there now. But listening to the negative media will only make you want to roll over and give up without trying.

  • Great post! I agree, it is a pet peeve of mine as well 🙂

  • I don't agree…. I think spending time to think about the future is useful…

  • My prediction is that most predictions are wrong….lol…well said. It is still fun to try to predict what will happen as long as you don't lose money in the process.

  • My prediction is that most predictions are wrong….lol…well said. It is still fun to try to predict what will happen as long as you don't lose money in the process.

  • [……]Over dinner recently, I was having a discussion with a friend. The conversation took place in a very full and busy restaurant. At some point the discussion turned to the sentiment throughout the United States right now and how the level of anxiety, negativity, pessimism, depression, and downright panic seemed at an extremely high level and appeared disconnected from general reality. We talked about what “general reality” meant for a little while – both “our realities” (which are different) as well as our view of the “actual general reality in the United States.”[………]

  • to a certain extent i agree with your article – however I think spending time to think long-term add a different perspective to our thinking

  • Great post, I agree that predictions are a total waste of time 🙂

  • Great post, I def agree!

  • Predictions are a total waste of energy…!

  • Hey, do you have some predictions on year 2011? I would love to see some to get me acquainted with the latest that is going to happen next year. It would be exciting!

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    The negativity drains all of the enthusiasm for life out of you. Here we are in 2010 now and they are still predicting doom and gloom. Sure its tough out there now
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