People who are good at forecasting, including innovators, are good at changing their minds; an uncommon attitude. Changing ones mind contradicts the conventional wisdom of relying on experts for right answers. Truthfully, experts have no place in predicting future events because when it comes to discovering and predicting the unknowns, experts are overrated.
A new book by Philip Tetlock, a psychologist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, has just written a book revealing their secrets. It’s called Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction, and when it comes to predicting the future:
The superforecasters, it’s important to note, were pretty much your everyday kind of folk, including housewives and factory workers; they had no specialized knowledge and had no access to specialized information. Even still, their answers were, on average, about 30 percent more accurate than the experts’ answers.
How can this be?
In an interview with Science of Us, Tetlock said that superforecasters’ skill comes down to one thing. Surprisingly, it isn’t the attributes you might guess, like numeracy or a high level of general intelligence. “One of the discoveries is how much hinges on a person’s attitude,” he said. Most of us — experts included — make decisions too quickly, and change our minds too slowly. Superforecasters, on the other hand, keep an open mind when forming opinions, seeking information from a wide variety of sources. (They’re the wide-ranging fox to the expert’s super-specific hedgehog, Tetlock said, using the old analogy.)
But they also are okay with being wrong, and are able to revisit and revise their prediction when new information comes to light. As the website for the Good Judgment Project — that’s what Tetlock called the overarching research project, which has involved more than 20,000 participants, explains, “belief updating” is a key component to the superforecaster’s skill.
Confirmation bias is the enemy of forecasting
Experts are limited by what they know, and anything that contradicts what they know will not be taken as a positive. What makes experts so stubborn? It’s called confirmation bias, the propensity to find information, opinions, evidence that confirm what we know.
Expertise, along with group-think, are the enemies of innovation. Both are always present and must be deliberately kept at bay, one way to combat them is by being open to new points of view and deliberately looking for evidence that contradicts our thinking.
Innovators, like Jeff Bezos, have strong opinions weakly held. Jeff Bezos is an innovator who changes his mind all the time, as shared in this key observation about people who are right a lot:
He said people who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds. He doesn’t think consistency of thought is a particularly positive trait. It’s perfectly healthy — encouraged, even — to have an idea tomorrow that contradicted your idea today.
Bezos himself puts it this way about how Amazon thinks about the future: Be stubborn on vision, flexible on details.
Bottom line: The goal of forecasting isn’t to be right all the time, nobody is; rather it’s to be less wrong over time. And that happens through relentless experimentation, being open to new points of view, new information, new ideas, contradictions, and challenges to their own way of thinking.