Austin Bay

In Roman mythology, Janus was the god of endings and beginnings. The god --his namesake is the month of January -- had two faces, one figuratively looking toward the past, one to the future.

Unless you happen to write popular histories or own a chunk of The History Channel, you won't make much money on the past.

The future, however, is another matter. The future is big business.

Doom makes money. The doom end of the future business -- both imminent doom and eventual doom -- blossomed when first radio then television programmers discovered that sensational, scary stories riveted an audience.

Biblical prophets predicting doom faced stones thrown by mobs. Contemporary prophets predicting doom face network cameras. Stones hurt. Network cameras sell books. Pity Jeremiah -- he was born too soon.

Bright, positive futures ("bloom and boom futures") are a tougher sell than doom, unless you're in the cosmetic business and can eliminate wrinkles in six weeks. Fad diets and a host of other slick promotions ranging from quick self-improvement programs to messianic presidential campaigns work the same niche -- playing on hopes, promising change.

Everyone, however, is in the future business. Whether deliberate, improvised or utterly impulsive, everyone has plans -- and plans anticipate future conditions and future developments. Individual and organizational planning "time horizons" may vary widely. The 5-year-old wants his chocolate bar right now. When a football team's offensive unit heads for the line of scrimmage, the future time horizon for the play called in the huddle is roughly 20 seconds -- the time it takes to execute the play and determine the result. In the late 1970s, China began an economic modernization program that arguably has a five-decade time horizon.

Current conditions and past performance certainly inform economic decisions, but investment and its alter-ego, divestment, are fundamentally driven by assessments of the future.

Defense departments rely on secret and open-source data and intelligence analysis to estimate a variety of futures, like the effectiveness of technologies and potential (future) threats.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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