One of the amazing things about the last few weeks is the number of experts that have surfaced who not only predicted what has happened, but also predicted how it would happen. Amazing isn’t it? To do that must be genius, mustn’t it?

Or must it? One of the things that troubles cosmologists, and others who ponder how we got to be here, is the weak anthropic principle. It runs like this: If things hadn’t happened in such a way as to enable us to be here, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. As much of a social nicety as it is to say “isn’t it amazing that the two of us are here!”, it actually isn’t. It just is. You see, our very existence functions as a selection effect. If things had happened differently, we might have been a collection of scattered sub-atomic particles. No conversation to be had. Don’t worry, I like you just the same! 

It is a bit of a brain teaser, so let me put it another way, then I’ll get to my point. Let’s say we meet when we are 21. You say “what’s the chance that we’ll have a meal together when we are 100?” I have no idea. It’s a tricky question. All sorts of things could happen, some of which are not the kind of happy thoughts one likes to think about in polite company.

Let us say we meet again on the eve of our 100th birthday. Then what’s the chance that we’ll eat dinner together when we are 100? Pretty likely, right? Look, don’t nit pick, it’s just one of those paper thin illustrations. You wouldn’t want to upset a blogger trying to make a point. We are friends after all.

OK, now we’ve got our heads around the anthropic issue, let’s go back to those experts and add them to this mix. Instead of asking two 21 year olds that question about dinner, let’s get 2 million people in a room. A decidedly big room. Now what’s the chance that at least 2 of them will live to be 100 so that they can have dinner together? Pretty high? Barring acts of mass unkindness, I’d say yes.

It is a variation of that adage about the army of chimpanzees. You know the one about a million monkeys typing would eventually reproduce the works of Shakespeare? Although, as one wit noted, now we have over a million bloggers we know that simply isn’t the case.

But I digress. Those experts aren’t looking so clever now, and neither are we. Maybe they just got lucky, rather like a few CEOs out there. You pick up the right rock and you find gold. You see how we fool ourselves into thinking we predicted the future. Of course, I don’t want to detract for the genius that is out there. I’m looking at “The Black Swan” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb on my desk (you could feed my book habit by buying it from Amazon UK or US). Now there’s a smart man. Incidentally that book is partly how the Redcatco name came about. People that successively predict things are either very smart or very ‘lucky’. We listen to them, and we follow what they say.

All of this happens in microcosm inside our businesses everyday. There are some ways we can predict the future, but that is for the next post and after the comments…