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Can Tech Forecasting Really Improve Your Success?

A fascinating article titled “Technological Forecasting” from the March 1967 issue of Harvard Business Review by Professor James Brian Quinn at Dartmouth College provides insights into the opportunities and the challenges of technology forecasting.


This 50-year old article describes interesting specific examples of emerging technologies and evaluations of their futures by Prof. Quinn using the forecasting techniques that he reviews.


Prof. Quinn’s forecasting examples include:

• Fuel cells

• Traffic control systems

• Shoe materials (most shoes were made of leather in 1967)

• Food sources of protein

• Supersonic passenger aircraft (the Concorde entered commercial service in 1976)

• Shale oil

• Lasers

• Underground highways (example: the “Big Dig” in Boston – construction start 1991)

• Color TV’s (10% penetration of U.S. households in 1967)

• Commercial carrier jet aircraft (20% penetration of global fleet in 1967)

• Cloud computing


With our 50-year rear view, we can see that these example forecasts were accurate to varying degrees. Their eventual outcomes 50 years later provide confirmation of the observations (summarized below) from Prof. Quinn about forecasting.


• Technology forecasts do not need to predict the future precisely to be useful.


• The usefulness of forecasts is in evaluating the probability and significance of tech-

based capabilities so that better decisions can be made now.


• Technologies must be evaluated systematically and on-going since they evolve from

their initial conceptions to practical applications.


• Avoid overly hyped forecasts and conclusions that can lead an organization down an

unproductive path.


• Understand, not just the emergence of a technology, but also the expected diffusion

of the technology in the marketplace.


• Top leaders who should be involved in technological forecasting frequently do not

take the time to be engaged.


• A key benefit of technology forecasting is gaining a better understanding of

potential technology-based opportunities and threats providing information

needed to track and manage them.


Prof. Quinn’s article provides an interesting and comprehensive review of the principles, limitations and techniques of technology forecasting. It’s worth reading if you have the time.


Can technology forecasting really improve your success? The answer is “Yes” … if it is undertaken based on key principles and in a systematic and disciplined way.


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