During the course of our jobs, many of us are called upon to forecast
trends, markets, or the outcome of a project or product. If you're like me, your
predictions aren't always on the money. In a recent issue of American Demographics, John Mahaffie of Coates & Jarratt, a Washington, D.C., research firm, cites some of the chief reasons for forecasting errors--
Failure to examine assumptions. Does the forecast rest on unlikely or unrealistic social, economic, or technological developments?
Limited expertise. Some people simply get too enthusiastic and overshoot their expertise when making a forecast.
Lack of imagination. Other forecasters suffer from just the opposite problem: They may fail to explore the more interesting possibilities for the future out of conservatism or timidness of thought.
Neglect of constraints. Many people fail to anticipate the roadblocks that occur within organizations, such as budget limitations or the opposition of others to an idea or project.
Excessive optimism. Those who view the world through rose-colored glasses don't give sufficient weight to "downside risk.' Result: Their forecasts are usually flawed.
Reliance on mechanical extrapolation. Don't assume that a particular trend or development, such as market penetration by a product, will continue to proceed at the same rate as in the past.
Premature closure. When developing forecasts, some people finish their work before all factors are considered. As a result, the more creative and far-reaching possibilities are never explored.
Overspecification. It's not possible to control all the variables and imponderables driving change, so no one can be utterly specific about most developments.
Mahaffie adds that those who develop products must guard against being too enthusiastic about a particular outcome, such as a new technology that they admire or own patents on. While enthusiasm is a necessary ingredient to get projects rolling, we need to add a dose of detachment to insure that our expectations are realistic.
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