Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction, Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner. Crown Publishing, 2015. 352 pages. US$28.00
Book Review by Charles Hammer
Understanding the needs of your customers today is hard. Anticipating the future needs of your customers when you release a new product might actually be impossible. You have to consider global politics and economics, trends, competitors, technology, and whatever else.
Some of us compensate by investing heavily in qualitative and qualitative research, culminating in a wonderful presentation in a dark room with skeptical executives. In the end, the absence of a crystal ball, the final decision is often a gut decision by the most powerful person in the room.
Have you ever wished those people were held accountable for their predictions? What if all executives had scores on our intranets with their prediction accuracy? It would be similar to the news networks displaying the accuracy scores of the pundits yelling at each other. It would be hard to be so righteous with a 23% accuracy rating.
The authors of Superforecasting don’t go as far as describing a method to do this, but they do wish for a revolution in how we hold leaders accountable for their predictions. They describe a U.S. government-funded program, the Good Judgment Project. The goal was to discover whether regular people without access to classified information could do a better job of predicting global events than the tens of thousands of government employees who do it now.
In the end, they discovered a group within the group who did in fact beat the professionals. After studying these “superforecasters,” they devised a list of traits that set them apart. These include: cautious, humble, nondeterministic, actively open-minded, intelligent, reflective, and numerate. Each superforecaster contained some of these traits to different degrees.
To their credit, the authors don’t attempt to describe why these traits work through unproven theories. They call on other respected researchers and authors to explain much of this, including Daniel Kahnemen, Carol Dweck, and Nassim Taleb. In an accidental way, this book is a good summary of contemporary thinking about thinking. For those who have read these authors, it can be a bit repetitive.
The authors move on to commentary on what great leaders and great superforecasters have in common, incorporating concepts started with the Prussian military, used by the Third Reich and later adapted by some leaders of the American military. It’s interesting, but it seems like trying to stretch one good idea over many other domains without much evidence.
We may not see executives’ bonuses tied to their forecasting scores anytime soon, but the general trend toward measuring and data will inevitably touch us all. If you manage a team of people who are responsible for predicting the future and you want to get better, this book could at least start you down the right road.
Director of Digital Planning & Strategy (John Wiley & Sons)
Released: January 20, 2016, 5:30 am