I’m a fan of Seth Godin, the marketer extraordinaire. Actually, a big fan. But I don’t always agree with everything he says (that’d be odd).
Seth’s blog entry this past Saturday, titled “Are You a Scientist?” gave me reason to pause. His main point was that we’d all be better off if we spent more time trying to predict the future than explain the past. In other words, hindsight is 20/20. Rationalizing the past is easy. It’s far more difficult, and thus more valuable, to forecast the future.
As a message, this makes perfect sense to me.
Far more troubling, though, is Seth’s comment that “the habit (of making predictions) will push you to understand your instincts and to sharpen your ability to see what works (and what doesn’t) without the easy out of having to explain what already happened.”
In this, Seth fails to make the essential connection between explaining the past and predicting the future. The reason we’re able to make sound predictions is precisely BECAUSE we study and understand the past. We observe our surroundings and mentally connect actions and outcomes, in presumed causal relationships. “Hmmm, every time I do ‘A,’ I get ‘B’. I wonder if the two are related?” We then conduct experiments, analyze the data for correlation and quantify relationships wherever possible. In short, we understand the facts of the past, NOT our instincts, in order to predict the future.
THIS is what scientists do! And, yes, it’s what we all should do more of.