Crystal ball

Predicting predictions: useful traits that can make you better at predicting the future

Here’s something to keep in mind when you’re scanning the next “Predictions for 2018” article you come across. Because whether it’s an expert in a magazine or your own company’s market forecast, it’s easy to get caught up in predictions that sound great but have a flimsy evidentiary foundation. The hazard of forecasting is that people struggle to see past their own commitment to a particular vision for the future, and end up blinded by questionable assumptions or their own cognitive biases. 

There’s plenty of data to support the notion that people are terrible forecasters—but there’s more to the story. Philip E. Tetlock is one of the leading researchers in this area of making forecasts. He notes in his book Superforecastingthat how you think matters more than what you think. He goes on to identify a number of traits that are associated with individuals who do a very good job of making usefully accurate forecasts:

  • Be cautious
  • Be humble
  • Be intellectually curious and open-minded
  • Value and synthesize diverse views
  • Believe it’s possible to improve

With the speed at which the world moves these days, much of what we have great confidence in today has a good chance of being either wrong or irrelevant in a year, five years, or a decade down the line. Caution and humility usually do not come naturally to us, so much so that there’s a term for it: the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

So with the gates of a new year wide open before us, let’s take a pause to look at some very prominent people making very prominent predictions that were so wildly inaccurate as to be comic in hindsight.

So what is ahead for 2018? More predictions, of course. Just remember that none of us will know whether they were good or bad for some time to come.