By Robert Heeg
Daniel Franklin, The Economist’s executive editor confirms he operates in a very fast moving world, the impact of which is accelerated further through social media. “That’s not only true because of elections and Donald Trump, but also because of social trends that spread very fast, such as Harvey Weinstein and the sexual harassment wave.”
Franklin thinks the world is still in a period of absorbing the shock of the great recession, nearly ten years ago. That, as well as the pace of technological change and a sense of instability, leads him to believe there is a challenge but also a necessity of trying to peer ahead.
Between 1986 and 1992 he covered the great European upheavals for The Economist, including the collapse of communism. Despite the many present disruptions, he feels the current climate is not as extreme as that period. “Back then we saw the end of a 70 year experiment in communism in Europe and an end to the Soviet empire, which had an impact around the world and in the super-power relationship. Country after country experienced liberation and transformation.” Nevertheless, he does not want to diminish the elements that are converging at the moment, in a technological, political and economic sense. “It is definitely a time of disruption.”
In 2012 Franklin published Megachange: The World in 2050. He is also the editor of The Economist’s annual publication, The World In, which focuses on the year ahead. Gazing into a crystal ball is not becoming easier. “Of course it’s always risky and you can never be sure when you’re right.” Ironically he observes that the long-term broader prediction is in some sense easier than the very precise, one-year ahead horizon of The World In. The underlying, deeper trends are more certain to be playing out over the decade ahead, even if one doesn’t know the details. “In the shorter term forecast we’re always going to get a lot wrong but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t stick your necks out and have our best guess. I find it a fascinating exercise to take that snapshot each year on how the following year looks from that vantage point.”
Hindering accurate predictions are the so-called black swans; unexpected but influential occurrences that, throughout history, play their part in world politics. In recent years, such unforeseen events as the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump certainly made Franklin’s work more interesting. “Black swans are always difficult and by definition you don’t see them coming. We only know they’re there, somewhere. The trick is to open one’s mind to the possibilities of what lies ahead.”
If you’re an ESOMAR member you can read the full article in MyESOMAR in the digital copy of Research World. If you are not a member of ESOMAR you can join and receive a free copy of Research World 6 times a year or alternatively you can sign up for a subscription of the magazine in our publications store.