Predicting the Future – We all like  to do it, predict which products are going to be hot, which not; which will live for years, which will fade quickly. Lots of people try to tell you what you’re going to like and what you’re not. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes…


Have you ever wondered why:

  • Fortune tellers post hours? They should know when you’re coming
  • You never hear about a fortune teller winning the lottery or cleaning out Las Vegas
  • More of them aren’t key members of product design teams or on the board of directors of companies
  • More VCs don’t employ them instead of some kid who just got his/her MBA from a major name school and knows what the consumer will want/need in 5, 10 years

It’s all because they don’t really know what’s just around the corner or what new company, product, service, idea is going to be the next great thing anymore than you or me. If they did, more than one out of 10 start-ups would still be around at the end of five years.

And companies wouldn’t introduce stuff only to see you walk out of the store with another company’s stuff. 

Count Your Losses

Go ahead, look around your office or home at all the stuff you were positive was going to make it big and have really great staying power.

Instead, they sputtered, died, became niche products like:

  • Beta and VHS player/library
  • LaserDisc player/library
  • PalmPilot
  • Netbook
  • 3D glasses – active and passive
  • 8-in, 5.25-in, 3.5-in floppies
  • Your favorite here_____

And, of course, there are the hundreds of Internet/web-based companies that have come and gone leaving no residue behind except bruised egos and unfulfilled dreams.  

None of them were necessarily bad ideas, bad products. Often it was because the folks who developed and marketed them hung onto them too long and were unwilling or unable to kill the product with a newer, better, faster, cheaper solution.

Shrinking Cycles

What’s keeping company folks from getting a good night’s sleep is that the product/service life cycle is getting shorter and shorter.

The auto industry used to have a design life cycle of 3 years. Today, they’re doing honestly new product introductions – not just incremental changes — every year.  

The CE/PC industry used to have an annual product refresh cycle. That has shrunk to a six-month, even a three-month cycle.  

It’s getting so bad that the day after you start developing the next great thing, others in the organization are developing its replacement.  

Both teams are hoping theirs is the product that you just gotta’ have.


Laugh-In – One of the many highlights of the Rowan & Martin Show was the awarding of the Fickle Finger of Fate Award for a stupid or dumb mistake. Today, it’s something far less funny, more painful for companies/products; it’s stagnant sales.  

That’s right; ultimately, it’s you the consumer (business and individual) who determines which product is fought over when folks wait in line for the store’s doors to open or is stolen when you’re out of the room or walking down the street.

Consumers also vote with their money as to which product/service gets Rowan and Martin’s infamous Fickle Finger of Fate Award … and how quickly.

Speeding Adoption

Acceptance, adoption, disillusionment is happening faster and faster:

  • The PC took 21 years to achieve 50 percent market penetration
  • Cellphone – 16 years
  • Color TV – 10 years
  • CD player – 12 years
  • DVD – 8 years
  • Laptops – 10 years
  • Smartphones should be there in 7 years
  • Tablets should take 5

In the case of the last three, there are experts (normal people who like to predict the future) who say each is going to replace/kill the other.

Product Release – With almost military precision, companies strive to get optimum consumer attention as well as deliver shock and awe among the competition. With today’s always-on, open organizations it’s increasingly difficult to surprise competitors and consumers.  

It’s not just the product category the companies want to dominate; and despite their neat slogans – “designed for humanity,” “do no evil,” or other neat sound byte, they want to terminate the competition.

Companies, like their products, have their day in the sunshine and their dark days.


Sometimes it’s fact, sometimes fiction, sometimes wishful thinking:

  • Nokia “owned” the cellphone market, dominating everyone/everything. Then MS rescued them and they’re shedding products, people to recuperate.
  • Motorola had a great run with their phones, stumbled and Google bought em and now … well, we’ll see.
  • Apple set the pace for smartphones and established the tablet market and now no matter how many the consumers buy, it just ain’t feeling the love.
  • Lenovo bought IBM’s PC division and suddenly respect returned to the industry pioneer.
  • Samsung, the company with its fingers in everything, is designing and marketing flawlessly … for the time being
  • RIM (Research in Motion) and its Blackberry were kings of the mountain and are now hoping (begging) someone/anyone to buy the carcass

It’s true that with many of the companies and products, much of the problem can be laid at the feet of management. They become overconfident that whatever they offer, consumers will snap them up.

You didn’t.

But as Ben Thompson wrote in a recent blog, even the best futurists, forecasters, management thinkers, “experts” sometimes get it wrong.

They also try to tell each other why they’re “more right.”

For example, consider your always-with-you smartphone.

There are two leaders – Apple, Samsung – and a lot of wannabes.

Experts got their first views of the iPhone 5C/5S and said they were going to be disasters or modest successes. Consumers didn’t care and bought 9M in the first weekend!

Samsung’s Galaxy 5 flavors got mixed reviews even within the same publications and still folks bought them.

Tablets? Same story.

But both firms have been doing well because they’re focusing on the consumer, not the person writing the review, forecasting the future.

Uncertainty Ahead – Good engineers/designers usually have a clear idea of the next-generation product/service they are certain the customer wants/needs. The problem is once it gets in the customers’ hands, usage is often far different from the product plans. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes it makes for some tough driving.        


They will also face challenges because consumers talk with other consumers (friends/family) and make their decisions based on “facts” that aren’t on a specification sheet or price list.

Consumers weigh the features, benefits and costs that are most important to them.

And don’t kid yourself, it holds true in business decisions as well.

There are logical reasons for every rationalized decision.

The challenge for the people making and marketing the products (and fortune tellers) is that it is impossible to predict, measure, document when taste, priorities will shift.

Here’s where industry experts can help the company time the roll-out of the next big thing you just gotta’ have and make you wish you didn’t have yesterday’s model.

Next time, you’ll get it right.

Trust me … I’m an expert!