Magazine article The Futurist

How Do We Spot the "Unknown Unknowns"?

Magazine article The Futurist

How Do We Spot the "Unknown Unknowns"?

Article excerpt

Getting hooked on future studies in the late 1960s, when the famous Daedalus issue appeared with results from the Commission on the Year 2000, I shared the optimism that existed then regarding the accuracy of such studies. The first oil crisis put an end to that optimism, but there were other signals of trouble, too.

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Let me take a seemingly trivial example. I've been a runner, now jogger, since the mid-1950s, and I used to be alone on my jogging path. From the late 1970s, though, a lone jogger no more: in Hyde Park in London, in New York's Central Park, even in Paris' Bois de Boulogne, there was this stampede. Trivial, but not so trivial if you're in the shoe business, when a bit into the 1980s, three-fourths of the American shoe market was for running shoes.

Not so trivial, either, this signal was about a change in values and attitudes. That was for me an eye-opener. Not only do we have trouble forecasting economic and political change like the oil crisis, but we also take values and attitudes as so unchangeable that we do not even pay any attention to them.

One basic quandary is, What are "the unknown unknowns"? …

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