Unusual Business Tool: a Newsletter Predicting the Future

THE company that predicted the fall of the Soviet Union in 1986 now forecasts that China will become a dozen or more countries within the next five years.

Perception International, a corporate consulting organization in Ridgefield, Conn., reaches such assessments by looking for events that are out of the ordinary and fitting them into a broader picture.

The company is the creation of Andre Alkiewicz, a former British intelligence officer. Together with five associates and 12 correspondents, Mr. Alkiewicz warns clients about changes the group sees in the future. He pieces together information from economics, sociology, political science, and other disciplines, and then mails written observations to about two dozen clients three times a month. The mailings cover one subject at a time and are summarized quarterly.

Over the last quarter, for example, Perception International predicted that chlorine is on its way to being replaced, and that commercial espionage organizations will be recruiting from temporary employees working in a company.

Perception International charges its clients anything from $12,000 to $60,000 a year, depending on the amount of personalized services a company requires.

For the time being, Alkiewicz may have a corner on the market. At one time there were two other organizations involved in a similar business. But those companies have changed directions, leaving Perception International alone in its field.

Richard Clarke, a senior vice president at Fleet Investment Advisors, has been working with Perception International almost since its inception 11 years ago. He considers it a helpful tool in managing money. ``It's another source of information, a reaching, looking-out tool.... With Merrill Lynch's and Peabody's information, you have to act now. But this is something you tuck away and keep in mind for the long term,'' he says.

AT&T has used Perception International reports to create a model of what the 21st century will look like, says Len Ingolgia, an operations manager at AT&T. The company even established a ``weak signals'' program, which examines the news media for indications of trends or developments that might indirectly affect the company.

Miles Cohen, a senior portfolio manager and vice president of Norwest Corporation in Minneapolis, says he likes the reports because they provide stimulating and thought-provoking reading. According to Mr. Cohen, inferential thinking is a resource to help anticipate change. ``You can't always use the quantitative side of the brain. You have to use the intuitive side, too,'' Cohen says. One reason he says Perception International is not as greatly known or utilized is because ``it's hard to sell it to Wall Street if it's not tangible.''

At one time Alkiewicz was part of the Wall Street establishment as a former president of a small brokerage house. But now he says Wall Street is rooted in the status quo and classically linear in thinking.

To Wall Street, the future is an extension of the past, he says. That is a flaw because ``things were changing and things are changing,'' he emphasizes. By not being keen observers of what is happening now, people and corporations are blaming unexpected developments on ``the unforeseeable,'' when in reality, he says, they were not.

But is he accurate?

Cohen notes there have been times when Alkiewicz has been ``way out there.'' But ``his batting average is better than 50-50,'' he estimates. That record has made Cohen more money than it has lost him.

When the organization first predicted the collapse of Communism and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, it did it, Alkiewicz says, through examining events that were technological and financial rather than political. The final clue was the former Soviet Parliament's decision to allow the development of high-definition television.

Since high-definition television would be transmitted by satellite, it meant that Soviet citizens would be exposed to information from beyond its borders. By allowing uncensored information to come into the country, the government was, in effect, agreeing to change the way the Soviet Union was structured. The team at Perception International concluded that the ensuing structural changes would break up the country. ``Totalitarianism can only exist if people are kept subjugated,'' Alkiewicz says.

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