Christine Barney|Aug 2, 2010

When asked what superpower I would like to have, and yes I do get asked this question more than would seem normal, my  response is that I wish I could  correctly predict the future.  Some say, be careful what you wish for, but notice I said, “predict” the future not “know” the future.  The anal retentive  control freaks out there will recognize the difference between predicting (meaning you are driving the action) and knowing (meaning you are aware, but unable to change the future).  The latter is scary – wow, I will have a car accident on Thursday – and the former is very cool – I predict the stock market will hit 12,000 in two months.  Start buying now. Marketing and public relations is all about predicting and rarely about knowing. We predict how our target audiences will react to certain situations and messages. And while we may focus group and research something to death, it’s still a prediction based on past experience not certain knowledge.

So how do you make better than average predictions?  Here’s my recipe for prediction success:

1. Make sure you have all the facts.   Even magical powers work better when you have all the information.  If you are trying to predict likely acceptance for a consumer product, understanding how the product compares to competitors is critical. The more information you have the more accurate your prediction.

2. Map out all the possible scenarios. Let your creativity run wild – what are all the possible options that could occur.  Could a negative situation in fact turn out to have a silver lining?  Could pulling suspected tainted product off the shelves prove to customers you care more about safety than profit?

3. Develop proof points for each scenario.  Get viewpoints from a variety of sources, legal, marketing, community, employee, management, regulators and customers and include those findings as possible proofs for each scenario to help make a final decision.

4. First impressions count.   Read “blink” by Malcolm Gladwell.  Learn how we make judgments in the blink of an eye that are sometimes more accurate than anything. More than just gut instinct, the thinking that happens in an instant is powerful stuff.   Use it.

5. Be flexible.  If you’re moving down the path of one prediction and the situation changes, be prepared to make a leap.

6. Keep score.  Track your success and failures.  Predictions  – right or wrong – end up making great case studies.  Memorialize them and you have more fodder for step #1, getting the facts.

We all make predictions every day. Rather than leave the process to chance, try a little structure and I guarantee your prediction success will improve.  It certainly makes more sense than hoping for a  magical super power.  Besides, maybe being invisible would be way cooler.


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