I read with interest today Fast Company’s list of the Most Creative People in Business for 2013. Two names in particular stood out to me because of the nature of the work I do. At Number 1 is Nate Silver, the author of “The Signal and the Noise”, who became famous for his predictions of both baseball and politics (he correctly predicted the winner in 49 of the 50 states for the 2008 US Presidential election; and then 50 out of 50, plus DC, for the 2012 election).
So here we have Silver – a statistician – and he’s #1 in a list of the most creative people. At first, this seems like an oxymoron until you realise that creativity and forecasting are not mutually exclusive – in fact, knowing what to include in a model and what to exclude, as well as how to interpret the results, inherently requires creativity, not just statistical knowledge.
In the profile, Silver is asked whether “Big Data will change our world, …or whether it’s just another overhyped technology with a too-good-to-be-true story line”. His response is to reach for the French Fries… before after careful consideration responding that it’s an important technology, but he’s cynical – not about big data’s potential, but about its’ implementation. It’s an interesting observation coming from someone whose very public profile has come from crunching numbers, but he makes the point that it’s not about the crunching alone – it’s also about the interpretation and the synthesis of the data.
The second name that stood out to me was that of Sheryl Connelly. Sheryl is the global head of Trends and Futuring for the Ford Motor Company. I found the video interview with her (below) to be particularly interesting, and it too makes the point that futuring is not all about the data – it’s also about the trends, the potential opportunities and disruptors, at the periphery of your business model. For Strategic Workforce Planning, that means changes in the political environment, environmental, socio-economic, and technical environments; and most particularly the changing nature of work. Environment Scanning and Scenario Planning is essential to this type of futuring. In this blog post on the Ford Website, Hau Thai-Tang says about Cheryl: “while it is impossible to predict with certainty what will happen as far out as 2020, her thought-provoking insights into the future afford us the opportunity to do scenario planning and create the best value solutions for our customers.”
Silver and Connolly take two different approaches and perspectives to futuring, work in two different domains, and are both listed in the top 100 most creative business people of 2013. But there’s one common theme to their approaches – it’s not just about the data. If you’re relying on a piece of software alone, without the expertise to interpret the data, both Silver and Connolly suggest that you’re not going to get the benefits you’re looking for. So… who’s planning your future?
- Nate Silver: What Big Data can’t predict (tech.fortune.cnn.com)
- Future trends and scenario planning (eliaspn.wordpress.com)
- The 100 Most Creative People in Business for 2013 (stocktipsinvestment.blogspot.com)
- An Interview With Ford’s Futurist Sheryl Connelly (fool.com)
- Inattentional Bias and Environment Scanning (workforceplanning.wordpress.com)