How analysts and futurists plunder the timeline

Graphic: Wikimedia Commons

Twenty years as an analyst warped my sense of time. Instead of living in the moment — I foraged, looking back, around, and forward for evidence and opportunity. To the analyst or futurist . . .

The past is research fodder

The analyst is constantly gathering fuel for arguments. The best fuel is lying around on the Web like firewood: the immediate past. Analysts plunder recent history for analogous situations to what they’re predicting. How fast did consumers adopt Internet, and what does that say about app adoption? What did newspapers do when classified ads collapsed? What do mergers in the cable industry tell us about mergers in the finance industry? We use this evidence to realistically assess — or guess — how fast and how far people and companies move in response to change. Anything older than 5 years is suspect, because conditions from longer ago than that are rarely relevant to today.

The present is for news events, surveys and case studies

The analyst is always seeking case studies to prove a point. So every client success story — or failure — becomes a proof point. To bolster these one-offs, we cite ongoing surveys studying the behavior of panels of consumers, workers, CIOs, investors, or other groups. This accumulation of data stops from time to time for news events — a merger, a business failure, a product announcement, a strategic shift — that demands immediate analysis and may “change everything.”

The future is a playground for dreams

The analyst or futurist¬†lives in the future. That’s what the clients or shareholders are always planning for — and paying for. The future is a landscape that you can paint with projections, imagined mergers or business failures, barely perceptible trends, and advice that will position businesses for future success. You should invest in VR (or wait, because it won’t pan out). You should move everything to the cloud, make your marketing real-time responsive, rejigger your Web site for mobile first, replace advertising with social media, brace for millennials who don’t buy anything, or whatever else the imagined future demands. Because the future never arrives, the playground is eternal — whether predictions come true or not, we’re off and predicting the next year’s future anyway.

I’ve stopped living like a miserable analyst

Some people could do that demanding job and maintain perspective on their life and family. I couldn’t. I was so focused on the future, I spent little time in the present with the people who counted. Oh, I was there, but my mind mostly wasn’t.

Now I’m thinking differently.

My past is a time I warmly remember — not just the recent past, but all the way back to my childhood in the 60s. I look at my grown children and remember the things we did together when I was not present enough — but present enough to remember.

My present is full of challenges but also thrills. I’m savoring it, and there’s lot to savor right now. It’s a joy to share these things with the woman who has continued to love me for 30 years.

My future is uncharted. I can’t see it clearly, and I don’t need to. There’s some fun stuff I’m working on. Who knows if it will pan out.

The analyst’s perspective on time is a powerful and consuming thing. As I’m finding now, so is living in the moment.

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