It’s getting close to the end of the year and it’s time once again for the yearly December flood of posts that will be predicting what’s coming in 2018. Long time readers of my blog know that I don’t do these kinds of posts. My New Year’s Day posts are almost always introspective in nature and forward looking from my own personal perspective. But I also get asked quite a bit to contribute to other posts about the future. And I wanted to tell you why I think the prediction business is a house of cards built on quicksand.
It’s far too tempting in the prediction business to play it safe. Absent a ton of research, it’s just easier to play it safe with some not-so-bold predictions. For instance, here’s what I could say about 2018 right now:
- Whitebox switching will grow in revenue.
- Software will continue to transform networking.
- Cisco is going to buy companies.
Those are 100% true. Even without having spent one day in 2018. They’re also things I didn’t need to tell you at all. You already knew them. They’re almost common sense at this point. If I needed to point out that Cisco is going to buy at least two companies next year, you are either very new to networking or you’ve been studying for your CCIE lab and haven’t seen the sun in eight months.
Safe predictions have a great success rate. But they say nothing. However, they are used quite a bit for the lovely marketing fodder we see everywhere. In three months, you could see presentation from an SD-WAN vendor that says, “Industry analyst Tom Hollingsworth predicts that 2018 is going to be a big year for software networking.” It’s absolutely true. But I didn’t say SD-WAN. I didn’t name any specific vendors. So that prediction could be used by anyone for any purpose and I’d still be able to say in December 2018 that I was 100% right.
Playing it safe is the most useless kind of prediction there is. Because all you’re doing is reinforcing the status quo and offering up soundbites to people that like it that way.
Out On A Limb
The other kind of prediction that people love to get into is the crazy, far out bold prediction. These are the ones that get people gasping and following your every word to see if it pays off. But these predictions are prone to failure and distraction.
Let’s run another example. Here are four bold sample predictions for 2018:
- Cisco will buy Arista.
- VMware will cease to be a separate brand inside Dell.
- Hackers will release a tool to compromise iPhones remotely.
- HPE will go out of business.
Those predictions are more exciting! They name companies like Cisco and VMware and Apple. They have very bold statements like huge purchases or going out of business. But guess what? They’re completely made up. I have no insight or research that tells me anything even close to those being true or not.
However, those bold predictions just sit out there and fester. People point to them and say, “Tom thinks Cisco will buy Arista in 2018!” And no one will every call me on the carpet if I’m wrong. If Cisco does end up buying Arista in 2020 or later, people will just say I was ahead of my time. If it never comes to pass, people will forget and just focus on my next bold prediction of VMware buying Cisco. It’s a hype train with no end.
And on the off chance that I do nail a big one, people are going to think I have the inside track. My little predictions will be more important. And if I hit half of my bold ones, I would probably start getting job offers from analyst firms and such. These people are the prediction masters extraordinaire. If they aren’t telling you something you already know, they’re pitching you something that have no idea about.
Apple has a cottage industry built around crazy predictions. Just look back to August to see how many crazy ideas were out there about the iPhone X. Fingerprint sensor under the glass? 3D rear camera? Even crazier stuff? All reported on as pseudo-fact and eaten up by the readers of “news” sites. Even the people who do a great job of prediction based on solid research missed a few key details in the final launch. it just goes to show that no one is 100% accurate in bold predictions.
I still do predictions for other people. Sometimes I try to make tongue-in-cheek ones for fun. Other times I try to be serious and do a little research. But I also think that figuring out what’s coming 5 years from now is a waste of my time. I’d rather try to figure out how to use what I have today and build that toward the future. I’d rather be a happy iPhone user than the people that predicted that Apple’s move into the mobile market would fail miserably. Because that’s a headline you’ll never live down.
I’d like to thank my friends at Network Collective for inspiring this post. Make sure you check out their video podcast!