Can we predict the future?

corporate business ups & downs predictions 2016
2016: Can we predict the future?

By Gaia Grant

We are back to the beginning of a new year – or at least for some of us. The Chinese will celebrate their New Year early February (the Year of the Monkey) by driving away evil with drums and symbols, parts of India will celebrate their new year in April with songs and dance, while the Muslim New Year won’t start until October with prayer.

Not only are the dates different, but also the significance of the New Year period is different for different cultures. Traditionally Sri Lankans clean the house to represent a fresh start for the year, the Scottish roll flaming barrels of tar down the street to burn up the old year and allow the new year to enter, and the Spanish rapidly eat 12 grapes – one on each strike of the clock midnight – to bring good luck for each of the 12 months of the year. The Germans have for many years dropped molten lead into hot water to see what shape it takes to make predictions about the year ahead, with each shape symbolising a particular aspect of life, such as love and prosperity.

The beinning of the Gregorian new year starting January 1 is also the time economists economists make predictions – and reflect on the errors of predictions from the previous year! As most economists can tell you, the future is very hard to predict.

The Queen famously asked how the economists could have missed the signs of the 2009 recession when it was such a major event. Economists have defended themselves over the years by saying that seismologists can’t forecast earthquakes and meteorologists can’t predict hurricanes – so how can economists be expected to see a major economic event before it emerges? Because the economy is a complex adaptive system it is constantly changing, and therefore difficult to pin down. As the chaos theory suggests, small changes in one area can have significant impact in so many other areas. In economics a related approach is known as complexity economics, as it deals with non-lineal behaviour.

In The Signal and the Noise: Why so many predictions fail – but some don’t by statistician Nate Silver, Nate identifies the problems behind making accurate predictions, also giving some tips on ow to improve the odds.

Although it is extremely difficult to predict the future with any accuracy, just as it can be difficult to predict with accuracy the weather more than a few days in advance, it is still important to survey the scene and prepare for what may be ahead.

When you do a search through the media to find out what is upcoming for 2016 globally, you are reminded of the upcoming US elections, increasing marijuana legalisation, space exploration and Big Data – and apparently it will also be a big year for a Guns n’ Roses comeback.

What is on your company’s horizon? What are the common upcoming themes for you and your team?

Identifying upcoming trends and setting a flexible target based on these can be a useful exercise for the beginning of each year. By keeping an aware and agile mindset, a general route can be mapped and necessary last minute-detours and target recalibrations can be determined as they arise.

Good luck for predicting and targeting for the year ahead!


  • Smith, N. (2015). Economists’ Biggest Failure. Bloomberg View. Retrieved from
  • Silver, N. (2012). The signal and the noise: Why so many predictions fail – but some don’t. New York, NY: Penguin

Gaia Grant is the Managing Director of Tirian and co-author of Who Killed Creativity? and How Can We Get it Back? (Wiley 2012). Gaia has has a BA Dip Ed, BD (hons), Grad Dip of Change Leadership, MSc in Creative Thinking, MPhil / PhD in Innovation and Culture Change.

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