Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Forecasts: Brave the Worst of them and Work to Shape the Outcome

Association executives, and the boards of directors to which they report, would do well to regularly read and consider the predictions offered by rational, intelligent people who either: 1) carefully watch their businesses or professions or 2) make it their business to pay excruciatingly close attention to economic, social, political, scientific, and technological trends.

Listening to the right consultants, market watchers, and others who pay deep attention to the things that drive business and social trends can pay dividends ranging from getting a head-start on the competition to dodging the cataclysmic bullet.

One of the most fascinating things I have encountered while "watching the watchers" is the degree to which there seems to be exceptional agreement among many futurists that "we'll find a way." That is, even in the face of frequently compelling evidence that humankind is on a collision course with catastrophe, many futurists suggest that the human spirit is too strong and too deeply ensconced in our biosphere to allow itself to go beyond the tipping point. While I sincerely hope that is true, I believe it is dangerous and irrational to take it as truth. I think all of us should assume the worst as a very real possibility and act accordingly so that, no matter how wrong or right those who forecast doom might be, we'll be giving our best shot at turning things around.

That's how I look at association boards, too. Let's not assume that the market will correct itself. Let's not assume that legislators will "smarten up" and recognize the idiocy of their policy predelections. Let's not assume that scientists will succeed in finding the perfect replacement for fossil fuels before the last barrel of oil is pumped from the earth.

So, what's my point? First, listen to the deeply worried forecasters who believe your industry or our economy or our sphere of political dominance are on the brink of ruin. Listen to what they say and listen to their reasons for believing what they predict is coming our way. Think about how you, your family, your organization, or your board will react and what they will do if these troubling predictions come to pass. Think even more about what you, all of you, can do to put the brakes on.

Then, listen to their more hopeful brethren, the ones who acknowledge the same or similar trends but who foresee a happier outcome. Consider what these forecasters say will "save the day" and avert disaster. Consider what you and your organization need to be doing to prepare for the onslaught but, at the same time, what you will need to do to participate in the recovery.

By preparing for the worst, yet taking into account the possibility that the worst won't happen, individuals and organizations tend to change their behaviors in ways that might lessen the likelihood that the more fearsome predictions will come to pass. There are no guarantees; there never are. But preparing for the worst while simultaneously getting prepared to take advantage of opportunities as they emerge, individuals and organizations, including associations, will be far more likely to survive the "worst of times."

Here's a link to a prediction (it includes a very large graphic; give it time to load) that will give the "worst case" end of things if you need help getting to that point.  While this is admittedly one off the most troubling and dreary predictions I've seen, I will not write it off; it is too rationally laid out to be utter claptrap.  It warrants serious thought.

Now, I leave it in your hands to find the more upbeat version and to decide what you, personally, are going to do to respond to the world around you in such a way as to actually shape the outcome.