What It Really Means to Be Forward-Thinking

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We all want to be right. We all want to feel that we’re smart and rational, that we’ve weighed the evidence and come to the best decision possible. When we’re proven right, we want to be able to say “I told you so!”—because there are few feelings more powerful than that.

But here’s the thing: being right is easy.

When Bitcoin touched $20,000 at the end of 2017, it felt as though every expert in the world was dismissing the cryptocurrency as a bubble. The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly all ran opinion pieces explaining why the hype wouldn’t last and why anyone who bought now would lose their shirts.

At the moment it looks like they were right.

Bitcoin sank dramatically from that peak. It hasn’t come close to returning since. John McAfee’s prediction that Bitcoin would reach a million bucks by the end of 2020 is starting to look very wrong indeed. (And he’s got a lot to lose.)

You’d think that someone as smart as John McAfee would know better. But he’s not alone in making gambles that he’s likely to regret.

When Mark Zuckerberg paid $2 billion for Oculus Rift in 2014, Wired dismissed the purchase as a “bet too far.” People had been talking about the arrival of virtual reality for thirty years, the magazine noted and compared it to the development of 3D movies. It doesn’t matter how much technology improves, no one wants it.

Again and again, we’ve been told that self-driving cars would be here in 2020. Again and again, those predictions—and the billions invested by just about every car manufacturer in the world now—have been proven wrong. Working jetpacks sometimes feel closer than self-driving cars.

Everyone who believed that we would now be paying online with Bitcoin, living in a world of virtual reality, and doing it all while the robot cars we drive us down the highway has been proven to be wrong. Everyone who said it wouldn’t happen has got to say “I told you so.”

But it’s not just Bitcoin that the crypto-critics rejected.

They also rejected the whole concept of the blockchain. And it wasn’t just Oculus Rift that people said Zuckerberg had got wrong. The first mention of Facebook in The New York Times includes a quote from a student wondering about its value. “Before I got here it was a way to get to know people,” says the student. “But once you’re here it sort of loses its purpose. Why not just talk to them and get to know them?”

Companies as large as American Express are now building financial infrastructure using blockchain technology.

Self-driving cars might not be here now, but buy a new car with Lane-Keeping Assistance and you’ll feel the steering wheel move before you do. It’s getting closer. As for Zuckerberg, he’s pretty happy saying to people who told him he was wrong to drop out of Harvard: “I told you so.”

It’s easy to be cynical.

It’s easy to dismiss new ideas and ignore new product launches… and most of the time you’ll be right because most of the time, those ideas don’t work and those products won’t take off. Most don’t.

Anyone can shake their head and say: “That won’t work.” And usually, they’ll be able to say “I told you so.”

The value of forward-thinking isn’t to spot which ideas and which products are going to fail. That’s easy. The value comes from being willing to say “That will work,” and be prepared to be wrong. You have to prepared to let others say, “I told you so.”

Because when you’re not cynical, when you’re hopeful and optimistic, once in a while—maybe once in a lifetime—you’ll be right.

You’ll spot a winner before anyone else does. You’ll get in at the beginning. Everyone will forget all the times you were wrong and they’ll remember the one time you got it right. They’ll wonder how you did it. And you’ll be able to say: “You should have listened.”

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