birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

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Fakery as a Career

For 17 years, until last March, my entire profession centered on faking it. As an industry analyst for a third-party technology market research firm whose tagline is "Analyze the Future," my job was to predict how consumer technologies will evolve, forecasting the size and growth of specific consumer technologies, and evaluate the various players in the market and their prospects. My hundreds of colleagues had similar jobs, with each of us covering some aspect of information technology. Our clients would pay us tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for our opinions and "insights".

However, as I would explain to my clients, none of us could accurately, precisely and consistently do any of that. The thing is, the things that I could predict with any degree of accuracy just weren't that valuable. I could, for example, somewhat reliably predict how many U.S. households will subscribe to broadband Internet services over each of the next five years. I could probably also do that for Europe and China. However, so could anyone else with historical data and Excel. No one can reliably predict things that could actually be valuable. For example, in 2006, no one accurately predicted how momentous the iPhone would be the following year, something that would have been very valuable to a lot of people.

All of us industry analysts, and not just in the communications and information technology field, are just faking it. And the best of us don't even know that that's what we're doing. The "best", that is, in the sense that they rake in the most money from clients, not that they actually make more accurate predictions. As in many businesses, the key to sales is confidence, and it's hard to have confidence in your product when you know you're faking it. But if you have conned yourself into believing your fakery is real, then you've got a huge head-start on the rest of the field.

I tried a slightly different tack. I told my clients I was a fake. I didn't know any more than they did and that they, in fact, knew more than me. I was there to offer a perspective, one that I hoped was somewhat different and relevant and one that they could add to their array of data points that they could consider in making decisions. And a sliver of the market found that approach refreshing and welcomed it. The large majority of the market didn't.

Somehow, that sliver of the market, along with a supervisor who appreciated my approach, allowed me to keep that job for a long time. But, eventually, my supervisor left and the new sheriff didn't, um, similarly appreciate my skillset. See how good I got at faking it?

For the last five years, the burdens of the fakery grew too heavy. The rationalizations I would have to make myself to get out of bed were too numerous to recite. In the six months since I was fired from my job, I've been reclaiming myself. Don't get me wrong, the job had great perks. They paid me well, I got to telecommute permanently from home, and my colleagues were nice people. And, in the end, who is to say that in shedding one set of fakery I won't just take on another, more convincing one. One that fools me, too.

When It's Needful

Not Really