Why the Future Is so Hard to Predict
There are a lot of reasons why trying to predict the future is no easy task: the complexity of the variables involved; the sheer number of those variables; the tendency of human fears, hopes, ambitions, and expectations to branch out in new and unexpected directions.
All of this adds up to give us the Law of Unintended Consequences, or maybe what I'm getting at here is a corollary to that law -- the Law of Completely Unexpected Results.
For example: how is that Sushi has become a huge culinary favorite all over the world? There are complex answers to that question, and one could draw several lines through time from the non-Sushi past to the very Sushi-centric present. But how did it all start? Where did it come from? Would you believe empty cargo holds on trans-pacific passenger flights?
In the early 1970s, executives at Japan Airlines fretted that the cargo holds on their Vancouver-to-Tokyo flights were often empty. So the airline asked its Canadian freight coordinator, a man named Wayne MacAlpine, to look into whether these planes could be crammed with bluefin tuna from Prince Edward Island. McAlpine was somewhat baffled by the request, since fishermen on the island, some 2,800 miles to the east of Vancouver, didn’t much care for the bluefin’s taste—as he Teletyped back to his bosses in Japan, “What [the fishermen] did after they caught them is they had their picture taken with the fish and dug a hole with a small bulldozer and buried them.”
The airline executives were stunned: each buried bluefin could garner hundreds, even thousands, of dollars in Japan, a country already suffering the ravages of overfishing. The company took the unprecedented step of importing five Canadian bluefins for a 1972 auction at Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market. The giant tunas proved a hit, selling for the then-steep price of $4 per kilogram. The race to satiate the world’s toro jones was on. “Sushi was nearly two millennia old,” writes Issenberg, “but it was that morning at Tsukiji that the current experience of eating it was born.”
So, some thrifty executives need to cash in on unused cargo space, and poof! Three and a half decades later there is a sushi bar in virtually every shopping mall in the US. That's not the only reason, but it's a huge one. And one has to wonder whether most of us would have ever even heard of sushi had those JAL execs decided to put something else in those cargo holds.
So, what's the life going to be like three and a half decades from now? Who knows? But one thing's for sure -- dozens (or hundreds or even thousands) of future-shaping decisions such as the one that those airline executives made way back then are being made every day.