I was reviewing my “predictions” about tablets (see Is Apple Really Working On A Tablet? and Can Tablets Make a Go Of It? that I posted previously). I didn’t do so well. My first prediction was that Apple could be working on a netbook (nope, missed the mark on that one). My second one (that an Apple tablet would need time to grow, and would need some “compelling reason” for people to adopt it) wasn’t all that good either. How did I miss those? Easy: I was trying to read the minds of the people at Apple, and my Jedi powers just aren’t what they used to be :-). I didn’t look ahead to see that, with a recession starting to wind its way down, people would happily spend money on something and figure out “what to do with it” later. I allowed myself to get stuck in a bit of a rut and envision a tablet as more of a PC, and less like an uber-smartphone on steroids, with some PC-like elements stirred into the recipe.
It can be easy to try to see how a device or service will simply be a replacement or alternative to something that already exists. How often to we hear about something being the “next iPod/iPhone/PC/car”, completely supplanting an existing thing, and taking its same place in the market? People make these predictions all of the time. They are often coloured by their own perspectives and biases. A good example of this is the predictions about how cloud computing is going to replace the PC: all of the ones that I’ve read are put forward by people who either believe in cloud computing to the exclusion of almost any other form of computing, or have a vested interest in it succeeding. The point, though, is that people will often see things in light of what is already out there, and not see the gaps or holes that are still available for truly new ideas.
The easiest thing for all people to do is to simply look at the world as it is, and try to imagine what out there will be replaced by a new thing. To succeed, to change the rules, to create something truly new, means you have to be able to think differently. You need to envision something and how it could work. You need to not assume that it requires displacing something that already exists, or that it needs to be based on something already out there for people to adopt it. Everyone is capable of this (and I have done this myself from time to time), but it takes the willingness to ignore the current state of the market to do so.
I could try to promise I won’t do this again, but I know from experience that won’t happen. I will continue to make predictions (be honest, they’re guesses), and I know that I will typically base them on my own biases and flawed assumptions. I’m pretty sure I will be wrong more often than I’m right on those guesses. The best I can hope to do is look back on them, see where I went wrong or what I incorrectly assumed, and try to learn from that experience. There is nothing wrong from making mistakes. The real error is not learning from them.