The Unpredictability of Predictions

The Unpredictability of Predictions

Predictions seem to be the cornerstone of sports coverage.  We listen to and read these predictions.  Then, we use them to debate our co-workers, friends, and family.  For the most part, it’s all good fun.  

But, other than act as conversation starters, I wonder what purpose these predictions serve.

In early September, ESPN published a list of Super Bowl champion predictions from 33 of their NFL commentators.  The Rams and Saints seemed to appear most often.  I’m in Ohio, and Ohio’s two teams — the Browns and the Bengals — were not on the list.  

Let’s think about the impact of this list on those 4 teams — the Rams, Saints, Browns, and Bengals.  Do the Browns and Bengals just stop practicing?  After all, 33 of the world’s best football minds don’t think they have a chance.  Or, do they practice even harder, trying to prove those experts wrong?  What about the Rams and Saints, do they take it easy, thinking the momentum of those predictions will just carry them to success?

Somehow, I doubt that those predictions had any impact, other than maybe a passing mention in the locker room.  We understand that you don’t quit and go home cause you’re not on the list.  And, you don’t put your feet up and twiddle your thumbs because you are on the list.  

Sure, teams are trying to stay on the list, or make the list next year. But, truthfully, if the list weren’t there, these teams would still be trying to improve their game, their records, and ultimately, since they are businesses, their bottom lines.

So, despite all the ink and time spent on publishing and talking about predictions, the ultimate impact of those predictions is minimal, at best.

The same is true for the predictions about the Future of Work.  Each week I see a new article or infographic that lists careers that are dying, or new careers that will be the next big thing.  Just yesterday, I saw a map of the United States, with 10 states highlighted green.  According to the info on the graphic, it’s predicted that these 10 states will lose the most jobs to automation.  So, if you live in one of those 10 states, well, you should . . . .

You should what?  Worry?  Change jobs?  Move?  There was no info on the graphic about what it all means.  

These predictions are no more helpful than ESPN’s predictions about the Super Bowl.

But, to those of us trying to pay the bills and get our kids a good education, somehow the predictions about jobs seem more real than the predictions about the Super Bowl.  Despite our passion for our favorite teams, we recognize that it is, after all, just a game.

Our jobs, however, that’s a whole different story.  Shouldn’t we heed the warnings?

No. We shouldn’t allow the predictions to guide us any more than the NFL predictions guide players and coaches. 

You shouldn’t be frightened if your job or state shows up on a list of automation’s victims.  Nor should you take comfort in the fact that your job or state doesn’t show up on a list.  The list is merely a prediction of how automation may impact certain industries.  And sometimes predictions are wrong.  (Just Google “erroneous predictions” and you’ll see just how many technological predictions have been wrong.)

If you’re a parent, or teacher, you shouldn’t let these predictions have any greater impact on you than ESPN’s predictions have on coaches and owners.  Your goals remain the same — prepare kids for the long game, not just this season, but the many seasons ahead.  You help build the fundamentals — the soft skills and the mindset.  You help kids understand that we cannot predict the future with any precision.  We have to prepare to adapt.

In week 1 of the Brown’s season, do you think the players thought that by week 9 their head coach would be fired?  Likely, not.  But, if the team has strong skills and a resilient mindset, then such a disruption will not change their performance on the field.  They’ll adapt.

The world of work is already changing, and the speed of those changes will likely increase.  Making today’s predictions even less predictable.  And, making it likely that there will be events that take us by surprise, like a week 9 firing of a head coach.   

But, we cannot prepare for this unpredictability based upon predictions.  We cannot steer our kids in the direction of the next in-demand skill set.  It’s too great a gamble.  The predictions could be wrong.  The best thing we can do for our kids is to increase their comfort with uncertainty and increase their confidence in their ability to learn new things.

Skills that will help kids thrive in uncertain times include adaptability, emotional intelligence, and grit.  These skills will help kids deal with the fear and frustration that can accompany change.  By negating, or even just controlling, those negative feelings, kids will be able to see the tremendous opportunities that also accompany change.  

We simply can’t get caught up in the predictions about the future. We’re apt to become overly anxious, or, perhaps worse, overly complacent, based upon information that is inherently unpredictable.  

Unfortunately, predictions sell.  So, they won’t stop getting published.  We just need to see them for what they are — nothing but hype. Ignore the hype. 

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