Derek Sivers

Entrepreneur, programmer, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.

Nobody knows the future - and it doesn't matter!

Nobody knows the future.

That's a hard but crucial lesson to learn.

If even ultimate insiders like Greenspan, Bernanke, and Paulson don't know the future, then neither does Jim Cramer, your stockbroker, Nostradamus, nor you.

We have a human need for certainty that desperately yearns to believe that someone can turn our future from unknown to known.

Even if we logically understand that it's impossible, we're emotionally sucked back in and fooled again when someone important tells us with such conviction what the future will hold.

But nobody knows the future.

Some people predict so many things, so when the random future lands on their number they can say, “See! I told you!” But how many times did they say so, and it didn't come true? (Like the joke, “He correctly predicted 12 of the last 3 recessions.”)

Our pleasure-seeking brains remember the times in our past when we were right, and forget when we were wrong. So it's easy to think we're smarter than we are.

Every time I speak on a panel, the moderator has to ask, “What's the future of the music business?

My first thought is always, “Nobody knows. Anyone who pretends to know is not to be trusted.” (And, even the ultimate insiders, the heads of every major record label, got it wrong.)

But then my thoughts turn to whoever is asking the question.

Why should it matter what anyone says?

Realistically, what would you change about what you're doing, day-to-day?

And so it comes back to fundamentals.

Just like we know there will be gravity, and water will still be wet, there are laws that don't depend on predicting the future.

You know that people love a memorable melody.
You can't know what instrumentation or production-values will be in vogue.
You know that people prefer people who make an emotional connection with them.
You can't know what technology will carry that communication.
You know that writing lots of songs increases your chances of writing a hit.
You can't know which song will be a hit.

So the best thing to do instead of predicting the future is to focus on the fundamentals that never fluctuate.

If you're a songwriter, write at least a song a week, always aiming for a memorable melody and words that make an emotional connection.

If you're a performer, make weekly improvements on your ability to captivate an audience, and make a goal of really connecting with 10 new people every week.

The details are unique to you, and will change constantly. But the real point will never change.