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Dickeson--Throw Away the Crystal Ball

August 1999
Budgeting. Scheduling. Loading. Financial reporting. Estimating. Production standards. Capacity utilization. We're talking about the heart and soul of printing administration. They all rely on a common function: forecasting.

We spend gobs of valuable time and energy predicting the future for those systems. Then we try to operate the business using assumptions we develop from those forecasts.

Want to know a sickening truth? As prognosticators, we're lousy. We're all plain stupid when it comes to making good guesses about what's going to happen. So why do we waste so much time with crystal balls? You tell me.

Am I saying we're all a bunch of crummy managers? No. Not at all. The reason we're not is that we proceed to make our daily—our hourly—decisions by ignoring the assumptions based on those flimsy forecasts most of the time. So why do we spend time and energy consulting a truth fairy to foretell what's going to transpire? You tell me.

No. I'll tell you. We do it because it's "tradition." It would throw thousands of "experts" out of work if we didn't. Where would all the financial advisers, economists, oracles, accountants, planners and wizards find work? Forecasts for the business are mostly dreams—fantasies—and we enjoy dreams more than the harsh realities of every day.

I'll bet you're either in shock at this point or about to heave your copy of this publication into the trash. But you won't because you know that what I'm saying is the truth, and you're fascinated. "How can we survive without our metaphors?" you're asking.

We printers are not an exception. No one can say which direction the ball will bounce. Neither the president, nor the Congress, nor the OMB can forecast the deficit or surplus for a fiscal year. No one can tell you which way the stock market is heading—though pundits abound.

Billions are being bet on communication mergers based on assumptions of which bandwidth media will triumph. Will it be cable, ADSL, wireless from satellite, or something entirely different? All the CIA experts can't begin to tell you the survival probabilities of Fidel, Saddam or Slobodan—our current demons.

Forecasters of the Future
As forecasters of the future, we're all ignorant. For one thing, we haven't yet fully recognized the truth and implications of Chaos Theory. Even though we know that minor shifts in input will provoke major changes in results, we still won't concede its validity. It's too great a shift of prevailing paradigms to swallow readily. Nonetheless, small changes in input are going to happen. They always do.



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