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Posts Tagged ‘Improbability’

Predicting the future sounds like humbug but in fact it is something very innate to humans, and a huge part of everyday business. People make sense of the world by building models and operate in different environments based on the predictions based on the models. In the business world, people sell each other probable visions of the future with the help of statistical inference and modeling. In many areas of business, modeling and predicting helps people make informed decisions, decide how to prepare for the future, providing a sense of control and a feeling of assurance.

When it comes to people, there is a saying that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. People tend to repeat patterns of behavior, and repeating patterns of behavior enforces them, making them more likely to be repeated. Most of the time predictions based on this law of human behavior work well. Experts, like psychologists, can make pretty accurate predictions about how a person will succeed in a work environment e.g. by simulating different facets of this environment and making observations. Just like economists or statisticians can predict growth or decline.

However, when there is a need for finding potential and thinking creatively, it does one good to remember that in essence the future is unpredictable. No method can provide 100 % accuracy or state 100 % probability. There is no way of knowing the future before it occurs. In fact, it can be a liberating experience to un-know it. Especially when trying to discover something new, if the models we use as the basis of our thought are pictures of the past, how can they support visions of the future?

The pressure to come up with new ideas in business is continuous. However, business decisions very often need to be based on predictions. Will there be a market for this product? How does this product respond to the needs of different customer segments? Wild, improbable ideas may be born easily, but many lose their true creative edge when molded by expectations based on what has worked previously or on a dated picture of the customer. Sometimes, what we end up with is the same old, same old and customers are not impressed. They were waiting for something new. Producing something new requires letting go of the feeling of sometimes false security created by looking into the past.

In addition to modeling of the future that guides business decisions, people are also intuitively at it all the time. Most of this happens automatically. Our perceptive and memory systems build models and expect future events for follow these models. More often than not, they do. And if a violation of the model occurs, we adjust it and keep on predicting. The human mind needs a sense of predictability to experience continuum of the self. Without it, we could not operate in the world. It is thus very difficult to stop modeling and predicting. Un-knowing the future requires conscious effort.

Reminding yourself of known improbabilities is one way to start un-knowing. With all the constancy there is in the world, it is fun to think about how our mere existence is in fact a highly improbable occurrence. If you were to ask some cosmic consultant about whether to put your money on “life as we know it”, she would advise you not to. The likelihood of a planet existing as Earth is, at this distance from the Sun, with this constellation of elements, not to mention the likelihood of the human race following to evolutionary path it has, is mind-bogglingly far-fetched.

So what does this all have to do with our everyday lives? We all know about how our expectations can mold the way we view the world. If you have a feeling that something will happen, you will start observing your environment with perception colored by this anticipation. Even the most self-proclaimed scientific, rational and objective person tends to look at the environment in a way that supports her own world view. And with abundance of information, scientific and other, in modern society, it is very easy to find evidence to support your own view. However, getting stuck in one’s own paradigm can stunt personal growth or create dogma. Updating your views with personally improbable information is one way to keep developing and learning in a creative way. Personally new perspectives and ideas can be found most easily by putting yourself in situations and creating connections you would not consider, that are not recommended for you based on your past preferences but still meaningful. Through un-knowing the future and approaching improbability in a brave way, new discovery is possible. And even so probable that you could put your money on it.

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