Uncharted Book Summary - Uncharted Book explained in key points
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Uncharted summary

Margaret Heffernan

How to Navigate the Future

4 (42 ratings)
22 mins

What is Uncharted about?

Uncharted (2020) explains why it’s impossible to reliably predict what’s going to happen, and shows us how to plan ahead despite the uncertainty of the future.

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    Key idea 1 of 7

    Predictions are always uncertain, and history doesn’t repeat itself.

    Predictions are always uncertain, and history doesn’t repeat itself.

    What have you been thinking about today?

    Whether you’ve been planning your route to work, making a schedule, or imagining dinner, one thing’s certain: you’ve been thinking about the future.

    Planning ahead is part of human nature, and has an evolutionary advantage: it helps us avoid future problems. So it’s unsurprising that entire industries are built on it: insurance, pensions, tech, real estate. Predicting the future is seriously big business.

    But there are problems with that. First, the world is so complex that predictions aren’t reliable. And second, despite the unreliability of predictions, people put too much faith in them. This means that when something unexpected happens, we get caught off guard.

    Just ask the finance industry, which has been struggling to get predictions right for more than a hundred years.

    Three men pioneered financial forecasting in the early twentieth century. Irving Fisher analyzed data to create market performance indicators. Roger Babson applied Newton’s laws of physics to economics, devising ornate graphs. And Warren Persons analyzed past performance: he believed that history would repeat itself, and the future would look like the past.

    But all three men had another thing in common: tuberculosis. Which meant they knew all about uncertainty. TB could strike quickly and kill you in weeks, or lie dormant for a lifetime. The uncertainty of the diagnosis was, in some ways, as bad as the disease.

    So, unable to predict their own futures, all three threw their energy into predicting the future of the markets – in very different ways.

    Despite their scientific methods, both Fisher and Persons failed to predict the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Babson did predict it – but then again, he’d been predicting a crash every year since 1927.

    None of them figured out how to forecast accurately, but they did leave a legacy. They showed that there was money to be made in making predictions – even if they were wrong. And today, the financial forecasting industry is huge. 

    Persons’s mistake is especially worth noting: it’s wrong to assume that history repeats itself. For example, politicians in the later half of the twentieth century were haunted by the memory of the 1938 Munich Agreement, which failed to prevent World War II. But their desire to avoid “another Munich” had disastrous consequences of its own, including the Suez Crisis and the Vietnam War.

    The truth is, it’s safer to acknowledge that we don’t truly know what’s going to happen next. The world is just too broad, too complex to predict with accuracy or certainty.

    And – as we’ll hear in the next blink – the same applies to people, too.

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    About the Author

    Margaret Heffernan is an author as well as an entrepreneur and chief executive. Born in the US, raised in Holland, and educated in the UK, she has worked for companies including the BBC, Standard & Poors, and InfoMation Corporation. Her books include Beyond Measure, Willful Blindness, and A Bigger Prize.

    Who should read Uncharted?

    • History enthusiasts
    • Futurologists
    • Businesspeople keen to improve their long-term planning

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