I have always been fascinated with statistical models that try to project the future. Regression-based modeling, econometrics, scenario-planning, and simulations (including techniques from the finance field) are some of the techniques that I found to be helpful in coming up with projections.
In my previous life, we even came up with a "vision-statement" that encapsulated this view: "Empowering Foresight".
However, at the back of my mind is "foresight is never 20/20" and that "past events are never a guarantee of future events".
A constant reminder that in spite of all the due diligence, the rigor, the studies, the equations, and the scenarios that have been done, there is no guarantee that things are going to be as predicted.
Foresight is never 20/20 - hindsight is.
Seth Godin writes about this in his entry, It's (Always) Too Soon To Know For Sure. He notes:
If you're racing, you better figure out what to do about the times that you don't know for sure...because more and more of your inputs are going to be tenuous, speculative and possibly wrong. Day traders have always understood this--all they do is trade on uncertainty. But you, too, if you're racing, are going to have to make decisions on less than perfect information.
Indeed, perfect information is hard to come by in spite of the deluge of data and the now-very-cheap methods of gathering information.
But these days, one has to make decisions on the fly.
So what does one do?
My view is simple:
Do the due diligence, go through the rigor with the current information that you have, make a decision - but don't cast it in stone.
Be flexible enough to change and respond to changes.
That sounds like a cliche because it is.
But it is not always practiced.
It is true the doing everything that you can is not going to be a guarantee that things are going to be right. But it certainly doesn't mean you shouldn't even bother doing what you can to control the things that you can.
It will not be perfect - it can NEVER be perfect.
But that should never be a reason to skip the due diligence and the rigor: one has to uncover as many potential opportunities and threats as possible, and come up with scenarios to respond to them.
One will never encapsulate everything whilst planning, say, a campaign or a marketing program - that's why it's called the future.
The only recourse that we have is to plan to adapt and to learn and to respond.