Representations of Changes
-- a university of arizona
course on methods and approaches for studying the future
a graph can convey a lot more information than words. The six graphics below represent
common "futures" events. The relationship of the graphic to futures
studies is briefly described. In each case, the x axis is time and the y axis
- What happens, really,
when a "paradigm" shifts? How can you benefit from knowing in
advance which way a paradigm is moving? A paradigm has all the characteristics
of a "bell shaped curve" - that is, not everyone agrees to THE
PARADIGM - so you have people think at the extremes with most in the middle
(note in the chart, the x axis could be opinion or time). So, when the AVERAGE
view of a paradigm moves to a new position (see second curve), you have
a PARADIGM SHIFT. If your view is on the side of the first curve that is
approaching the NEXT paradigm, you will be "anticipating" the
shift. By watching which way the first paradigm moves, you might be able
to see the early warning signals of the new paradigm.
Two views - S shaped curve or bell shaped curve
- The same data can be
graphically presented in two very different ways - looking at it both ways
can help your understanding of the underlying principles or trends. The
curve on the right is the familiar bell shaped curve. The one on the left
is the also familiar S shaped curve. These are just two ways of presenting
the same data (the left is the integrated form and the right is the differentiated
form). It is useful to use one form or the other to make your point or to
understand how trends change.
Incremental changes over time can equal big changes
- Some trends last a
long time (e.g., world population growth) but others are often made up of
a series of smaller trends (e.g., type of aircraft engines). When these
smaller trends are tied together they give the impression of one "long
term trend". Each of these smaller trends is like an S shaped curve
- it starts slowly, grows quickly, and then dies out. But, another product
or viewpoint is ready to take over and continue the trend. Over time the
accumulated changes can be very large. For the casual observer, the overall
trend may seem like one smooth curve, but it is really a series of smaller
trends that come and go.
Discontinuities and uncertainties
- Any trend-like representation
is subject to a perturbation that is unlikely to be accounted for in advance.
The perturbation may cause a temporary disruption in the trend or affect
the rate of change or direction of the trend, or it can be large and alter
the trend so it is no longer recognizable as the original trend. The big
jump about half way along the x axis was due to a "perturbation".
Normally these perturbations are unexpected, and they make for large difficulties
in any trend estimating (however, with a little foresight
you can anticipate some of them). The trend may be simply displaced (as
in the example), or the trend disrupted completely.
Hype or Bandwagon Effects
- When something is "new"
and others mimic it, it produces rapid growth. After a while, the growth
poops out and you either get a bust or a correction to more reasonable growth
rates. When some event starts big, everyone may think it will be the next
major trend, so even more people get involved, and the trend overshoots
its normal course of events and falls back (often rapidly). It then corrects
itself to the appropriate rate to sustain growth. This can be called the
hype curve (where the hype gets ahead of reality) or a representation of
the bandwaggon effect (everyone joins in whither they know anything about
the subject or not).
- Trends are often extrapolated
into the future, with a "range" indicated to allow for historical
variation. This works fine for situations where there are a lot of historical
data and the ranges in variation are fairly consistent (e.g., world grain
production) but is not useful when there is high variation (e.g., stock
market values). In the diagram, the middle line is the average value over
a long time (such as world grain yield). The lower and upper lines bracket
the variation of the average, so they bracket the average by accounting
for the long term variation. This is often summarized as the high, low,
and medium changes on whatever subject is being studied.
Return to "Anticipating
the Future" course home page
Prepared by Roger L. Caldwell