Whether you realise it or not, we all spend a lot of time predicting the future. Is is it worth buying a home? Going to uni? Getting married? Buying that new gadget? We tend to be pretty bad at these types of predictions, but Freakonomics outlines some mental tricks for getting better at it. Freakonomics is talking specifically about so-called “superforecasters” who spend their days predicting big, impactful world events, but what makes them good at those predictions can easily be applied on a more personal level. Speaking with Philip Tetlock, they outline 10 commandments:
1: “Triage. Focus on questions where your hard work is likely to pay off.” Pretty sensible. 2: “Break seemingly intractable problems into tractable sub-problems.” OK, no problem. 3: “Strike the right balance between inside views and outside views.” 4: “Strike the right balance between under- and overreacting to the evidence.” 5: “Look for the clashing causal forces at work in each problem.” That’s where the homework comes in, apparently. 6: “Strive to distinguish as many degrees of doubt as the problem permits but no more.” OK, that one just sounds hard. 7: “Strike the right balance between under- and overconfidence, between prudence and decisiveness.” 8: “Look for the errors behind your mistakes but beware of rearview-mirror hindsight biases.” Did you get that one? Here, let me read it again: “Look for the errors behind your mistakes but beware of rearview-mirror hindsight biases.” 9: “Bring out the best in others and let others bring out the best in you.” Not a very Washington, D.C. concept, but what the heck. 10: “Master the error-balancing bicycle.” Wha? This one needs a bit more explanation… “Just as you can’t learn to ride a bicycle by reading a physics textbook,” Tetlock writes, “you can’t become a superforecaster by reading training manuals. Learning requires doing, with good feedback that leaves no ambiguity about whether you are succeeding … or … failing.” Now, if following these commandments sounds like a lot of work — well, that’s the point.
It’s really just a mix of understanding your own biases and keeping an open mind, but that’s easier said then done. Check out the full podcast over on Freakonomics for a complete breakdown of all these commandments.
How to Be Less Terrible At Predicting the Future [Freakonomics]