Monday, 1 August 2016


Bad news for bookies, pundits and psephologists - the old fashioned way of predicting through balancing talent, achievement and form has gone out of the window.

As they might say in Iceland:  “Við þandir Englandi. Svo mikið fyrir mannorð þeirra.“

Does anyone know what’s going to happen next? We got the prospects for Corbyn, Brexit, Leicester City and Trump wrong. We seem to have lost our touch. Just as “Big Data” arrived to allow us to forecast with greater sureness something weird has happened.

Unpredictability rules OK …or have we just lost the plot?

The late founder of Body Shop, Dame Anita Roddick, said:

“Running a company on market research is like driving while looking in the rear view mirror.”

But that’s what all the big institutions have been doing for a long time.  Headhunters select candidates on the basis of where they’ve been rather than what they might do. Hence their arrival into (and thereafter departure from) similar jobs to the ones they’ve had before, showing how efficiently we recycle senior executives. The biggest change in our world is that mass movements like epidemics-of-extreme-opinion happen faster than we could have imagined in older and slower times. Apathy is dead. The silent majority has started to shout.

Some of the things that we couldn’t have imagined - everyone uncomplainingly wearing seatbelts, smoking being banned in virtually all public spaces, adult smokers down from 46% in 1974 to 19% in just 40 years and plastic bag aversion…. what’s effectively a “fine” of 5p per plastic bag has produced an 80% decline in uptake in Tesco alone.

The thundering herd embraces games and fashion too - Pokémon-Go for instance where the groundswell of excitement may burn out but the appetite for the next PG will be waiting for more.  We’re told we need leadership. Well, look at the leaders. Are the Trumps, Le Pens, Wilders, Putins, Erdogans and others what we really need in a civilised world? Aren’t they all just part of a wave of militant nostalgia?

We are spending so much time focusing on the past,  looking in that rear view mirror, rather than exploring the future.

But what we aren’t doing is looking at and listening to what Martin Lindstrom calls “small data” (author of “Brandwashed - Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy”). His thesis is small changes and phenomena make the difference and anticipate the tidal wave that creates trends. Like people beginning to think that smoking looked unfashionable and unusual was what it took to prick the nicotine bubble.

Radar can help us predict the future but having a sense of conviction as to where we want to go and being determined to get there matters more.  A long time ago Sarah Lee had a great idea for promoting their cake mix. “Just add an egg” they said.

We need to find the egg that’s missing in our lives and then - well - just add it.

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