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9.2.3. Inferring: Comparing With the Future


How To Invent (Almost) Anything > 9. Managing in a Complex World > 9.2. Inferring Meaning > 9.2.3. Inferring: Comparing With the Future

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The future is all we have left, but it is uncertain and difficult to control. We thus pay close attention to the sequence of events through time and what the future might mean.

Fig. 9.3 Inferring meaning

The forecast filter

Having a gun poked in your face can be very scary. But why–it is only a piece of metal. What happens is that we take our current experience and extrapolate it into the future, typically using our mental models (which are often wrong or limited) and then create meaning from the future we see.

Much of our forecasting is done in terms of how things might threaten us, rather than the creative opportunities that might exist. This is understandable when viewed in the evolutionary light, as there was much in the primitive jungles to threaten our forefathers, but it can be very unhelpful when we are looking to create new futures.

The expectation filter

If you buy a new computer and the salesperson tells you that it has studio-quality video graphics, then anything less than an excellent picture will probably disappoint you. Having had your expectations set, the meaning you create from your experience is now relative to those expectations.

Expectations may come from previous experience, forecast futures or from an external source, such as when we accept someone else’s forecasts about what will happen. When we are heavily influenced by other people, many of our expectations are likely to come from them.

When what actually happens is not what we expected, we are surprised. If what happens is interpreted positively, then we are delighted. If we are surprised in a negative way, then we are disappointed. Surprise often leads to us changing behaviour or doing something different (such as not buying anything else from the computer shop).

If you are stuck in a rut when trying to invent something, do something to surprise your subconscious, jolting it out of the pattern of thinking in which it is stuck. For example, if you are designing a new writing instrument and are stuck around patterns of a barrel containing an ink cartridge, pick up the nearest object, say a stone, and try writing with that. You might then rethink the shape as something that could fit your hand better, and thoughts of ‘blood from a stone’ could lead to a porous body which contains the ink, rather than a separate cartridge.

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