Response to Geoff Colvin’s article, Business’s real problem: Uncertainty, uncertainty, uncertainty.

Dear Geoff Colvin,

In your article you pointed out that uncertainty keeps us from moving forward, launching new products, hiring more people, starting new businesses. Certainty, on the other hand, allows us to move forward with confidence. And we actually know a great deal more about the future than we think we know. We just need to understand where and how to look.

“There is nothing certain but death and taxes,” so they say. They’re wrong. There is plenty more that is certain.

In my latest New York Times Bestseller Flash Foresight, I discuss the power of certainty and how you can accurately identify them by separating Hard Trends, trends that will happen, from Soft Trends, trends that might happen.

A hard trend is a projection based on measurable, tangible, and fully predictable facts, events, or objects. A soft trend is a projection based on statistics that have the appearance of being tangible, fully predictable facts. A hard trend is something that will happen: a future fact. A soft trend is something that might happen: a future maybe.

Will your smartphone four years from now have a faster processor, better built-in video camera, and more storage (both in the device and in the cloud) than the one you have today? You know the answer. Of course it will. That’s a hard trend. Will the model you buy four years from now be sold by Apple? Don’t know. Soft trend.

This distinction completely changes how you view the future. Once you know the difference between hard trends and soft trends, you know where to find certainty—and the future suddenly becomes visible. This gives you the capacity to have what I call a flash foresight: a blinding flash of the future obvious.

That brings us back to Death and Taxes. Death and taxes are both examples of the certainty of cyclical change: Birth, growth, decline, death. Effort, productivity, profitability, taxation. Seasons. Political tides. Stock market fluctuations. There are more than 300 cycles scientists use to predict the future. But that’s only one kind of change. Economists use cyclical change to look into the future. Have you noticed they have been increasingly wrong lately? That’s because they don’t consider progressive, linear change—change that keeps going in one direction, and only one direction.

Once you get a smartphone, you’re not going back to a dumbphone: linear change. Once someone in China parks her bicycle and starts driving a car, she’s not going back to a bike: linear change. Once someone in India gets refrigeration, he’s not going to give it up again. These are examples of Hard Trends, certainties that will happen, and each has many predictable consequences.

Daniel Burrus