In this article, Saffo demythologizes the forecasting process to help executives become sophisticated and participative consumers of forecasts, rather than passive absorbers. He illustrates how to use forecasts to at once broaden understanding of possibilities and narrow the decision space within which one must exercise intuition. The events of 9/11, for example, were a much bigger surprise than they should have been. After all, airliners flown into monuments were the stuff of Tom Clancy novels in the 1990s, and everyone knew that terrorists had a very personal antipathy toward the World Trade Center. So why was 9/11 such a surprise?
What can executives do to avoid being blindsided by other such wild cards, be they radical shifts in markets or the seemingly sudden emergence of disruptive technologies? In describing what forecasters are trying to achieve, Saffo outlines six simple, commonsense rules that smart managers should observe as they embark on a voyage of discovery with professional forecasters: Map a cone of uncertainty, look for the S curve, embrace the things that don't fit, hold strong opinions weakly, look back twice as far as you look forward, and know when not to make a forecast.