Many readers will know that this past spring I published my third book, Tomorrowland: Scenarios for law firms beyond the horizon.
With the author’s permission, I reproduce here the Introduction to Tomorrowland. I hope you might find it of interest.
The future may be unknowable, but it’s not unthinkable.
This book is intended to help you think about the future.
Thinking about the future is quite different from predicting the future—it’s unknowable, remember—but that scarcely means we’re helpless or without tools in this endeavor. This book is such a tool.
I write specifically about possible futures for sophisticated law firms—“Law Land”—but I believe the approach I take and the techniques I’ll apply could be extrapolated without violent distortion to inquiries into possible futures for many other professions, especially those that operate primarily on the home turf of business-to-business commerce.
Scenarios are at the heart of this book. A scenario is not a prediction. A scenario is a mental model, a powerful one I believe, for delving into the question, “If this (current or nascent) trend or phenomenon continues or accelerates in operation, what would the world then look like?”
Scenarios also provide the book with its structure. As you’ll see, I will propose a series of different scenarios, each of which—were it the only evolutionary force at work—would define strongly if not dictate outright where Law Land is going. Do not underestimate this. Indeed, I’ll remind you of and underscore the power of any single scenario, operating unchecked and in isolation, to dominate events through the straightforward and direct matter of chapter titles: I give each scenario one chapter where it “wins.”
Proceeding as if one and only one scenario will “win,” of course, would be too easy. Come to think of it, in that case I might be able to get away with a single chapter devoted to the winner—why trouble ourselves with the also-ran’s? Unfortunately that would bring us right back to you, Dear Reader, proceeding with this book in the expectation that I will be advancing predictions and your job is merely to follow along. Wrong, and wrong.
First, I will not be offering predictions because, aside from the obvious awkwardness should they prove to be mistaken as time unfolds, I find predictions self-referential; they inevitably seem to map the writer’s own self-centered view of the world into the indefinite future in a brute-force, linear fashion. Understand that we all have such views and that this is not the core of the problem. The problem as I see it is that once one understands the writer’s premises, you tend to learn little more by ploughing through the volume.
This brings us to the second expectation I labeled “wrong:” Do not expect to read this book in passive “receive mode”—not, at least, if you want to extract the most value from it. I understand that advising you on the attitude with which you should approach this book may seem presumptuous, and at the very least a bit of an imposition, but that’s the way scenarios work.
Scenarios have another advantage in helping us think about how the future might unfold. We tend to find ourselves trapped by the temptation to default to a linear extrapolation of what’s recently just occurred: It’s tough to escape the assumptive box that “the best predictor of the weather tomorrow is the weather today.”
This simplistic approach turns out to be improbably accurate when it comes to the weather, but it’s wildly fallacious when it comes to human behavior and the ways of the world. Yes, the groundwork for any given scenario ought to be discernible in conditions as they are today—I find it a sturdy guide to try to stay in touch with reality whenever possible—but no scenario takes today’s conditions at face value and more pointedly, none follows Alexander Pope’s counsel that “whatever is, is right” (An Essay on Man, I.292 [1733—’34]).
That said, if you are now on the verge of despairing of finding even one prediction in this book, here you go: This will be my first and last, but one I stand behind with a high degree of confidence: The world is far too complex for any one-dimensional scenario to win.
Here are a few ways the world is too “complex:”