The “I told you so – effect” in future studies and horizon scanning

I told yoFuturists are talking about trend and developments all day long. They almost live the future  (or multiple futures). Their job is to help stimulate strategic thinking about the future in organizations and people. The everyday reality is, that most people are busy with important business here and now. Things that are uncertain and far away do not make much of a connection to most people’s reality. Although they might find your trend presentations fascinating, it may take a while to convince people of the relevance of certain emerging trends. Eventually, when such trends are all over the place, then the “I told you so!” – effect might show up.

The importance of disbelief

The “I told you so” – effect happens when futurists in organizations have talked about trends and developments that people don’t believe in.  They might even get irritated or scorn the futurists, who are saying such ridiculous things.  According to Jeremy Bentham, director of the Shell scenario group, this is all very common. And actually, you are doing good work when such things happen. It means that you are onto something important, which the organization needs to know more about.

If the “I told you so – effect” persists too long, then it might be a sign that the organization finds it difficult to grasp the meaning of certain trends. The moment of recognition may come gradually, and not right at the first trend presentation. There is always a moment in the process, where someone says “Now I started to see what you where talking about” or “First I was a little sceptic about that trends, but now I see the signs everywhere”. This recognition should happen at some point. Otherwise, there is no connection between the work of the futurist and the rest of the organization.

“I told you so” versus the hindsight bias

The “I told you do – effect” could be the opposite of the more famous hindsight bias. The feeling that you knew it all along, but only in hindsight. Actually, it is a good thing if people have the feeling that they knew it all along. So, maybe it could be helpful to trigger the hindsight bias after your trend or scenario presentation. When people have the idea that they knew it all along, then it could be easier to understand the implications of these trends or scenarios. Then they are in the perfect mental state to start a discussion about strategies to be prepared for uncertain but plausible futures. In any case it is a challenge to make initial disbelief translate  into curiosity and a cooperative attitude. In the end, the most sceptic people may turn into the greatest advocates of future studies and horizon scanning.

About Freija Van Duijne

Twitter: @FreijavanDuijne Futuring is my passion. I am fascinated about what the future might bring. Always looking around for leads about the future and open for new insights. I am futurist, trendwatchter and strategist at the The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, a thinktank in the Netherlands. My background is in Human factors psychology. I did my Masters at Leiden University and I did a PhD in Delft University at the faculty of Industrial design engineering. I have been involved in foresight studies since 2006. I am frequently asked as an expert for future studies in area of food, natural resources, health and governance. I am also a speaker and workshop facilitator on futures studies, trend presentations and the many topics that I blog about. My contributions to Futuristablog represent my own personal opinion and is never a statement of the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
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