Anticipating the Future
We have pointed out how difficult it is to predict the future. And idealized design stresses the need for planners to concern themselves with what they want now, not at some future time. However, this does not remove the need to take the future into account. It changes the way the account of it should be taken. In conventional planning, designers forecast the future in which the thing being designed is to exist. Unfortunately, as the rate of change in the environment continually increases, along with its complexity, accurate forecasting becomes more and more difficult and less and less likely. As we have observed, poor forecasts (or predictions) lead to poor outcomes. How then should the future be taken into account?
The future is taken into account in idealized design by the assumptions planners make about it. Contrary to what some forecasters claim, assumptions about the future differ qualitatively from forecasts. Forecasts are about probable futures; assumptions are about possible futures. We carry spare tires in our cars despite the fact that we do not forecast having a flat tire on our next trip. In fact, if anything, we forecast that we will not have a flat tire on the next trip. But we assume a flat tire is possible, however unlikely it may be.
Assumed futures can be taken care of in two different ways. First, there is contingency planning. When there are a relatively few and explicitly describable possible futures, planners can prepare plans for each possibility. This is called contingency planning. Then, when the truth about the future is known, the appropriate plan can be invoked. For example, an oil company can develop exploration plans based on the price of oil increasing, staying the same, or declining. When it is apparent how the price is moving, they can quickly move to the appropriate plan already developed.
The way of dealing with more contingencies than can be planned for separately is to design into the organization or institution enough flexibility and responsiveness so that it can change rapidly and effectively to meet whatever it encounters. Automobile manufacturers cannot accurately predict customer demand for all possible models, colors, and accessory packages. However, the best automakers have solved this problem by designing production lines that allow them to build different models and colors on the same production line as customer demand requires. Some manufacturers in a number of industries have created such flexible production facilities that they can customize each individual product based on an order just received. Boeing aircraft and Dell computers are examples. It is obvious that an additional benefit of such a system is that it allows for a rapid inventory turn and minimum idle capital.