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Learning the art of predictions as a tool for business (Part 2)

By News Express on 13/03/2017

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Possibly the best book I read in 2016. Couldn't have read at a better time as the year nears an end. I could relate with a lot of things as I work as an equity, business and economy analyst trying to do the seemingly impossible thing of forecasting stock prices, the slant of the economy and possible impacts/opportunities to businesses. In particular, the examples of how superforecasters go about doing their jobs were pretty inspiring. Examples of taking the outside view and creating a tree of various outcomes and breaking down that tree into branches are something I could benefit from. 

This is a smart-thinking, more practical companion to Expert Political Judgment, useful for forecasts in politics, economics, and other areas of human activity, if not quite as compelling as its predecessor.

Superforecasting is a book that presents the results of Philip Tetlock's research on prediction and avoiding the biases that afflict even experts' forecasts within their domain of expertise. Superforcasting: The Art of Science and Prediction, by Philip E. Tetlock, is a book about the art and science of statistical prediction, and its everyday uses. Except it isn't really, that is just what they are selling it as. The book starts off really strong, analyzing skepticism, illusions of statistical knowledge, and various types of bias. However, the majority of the book focuses on a US government intelligence project called IARPA, designed to use everyday citizens to make statistical predictions.

Old joke about American Intelligence and oxymorons aside, Mr Tetlock draws heavy inspiration from American politics in the latest book detailing his life's research. This is the person behind the quip about American forecasters being worse than "chimps with darts", a line he's sick of hearing but that's not inaccurate.

I was one-hundred percent, absolutely blown away by this book. I think it is because it contained so many truths that I, a project-based learning facilitator in business development, preach to my protégé. Mentees have to be able to accurately forecast whether their project will be successful and make changes if it won't be. How do they do that? They need to know what is known and unknown. They also need grit, determination, and a growth mindset. They also need to be able to work together in synergies and teams.

Even if you didn't know much about forecasting before reading this book, and you will find the explanations easy to follow. The ease with which the superforecasters' predictions were explained, however, took some of the magic out of the ability to consistently beat others' forecasts. Yet tips not to over- or under-predict simultaneously make the superforecasters' feats seem even more out of reach. 

Sometimes it could feel like it was all common sense and/or things you already familiar with: cognitive biases, scientific method, falsifiable predictions, regression to the mean, growth mindset, self critical, wisdom of crowds, fermi estimation, thinking in gray, groupthink, grit etc. If you are familiar with these ideas, you will even gain much from reading the book as it enhances your knowledge of the use of stats and basic ideas behind thinking fast and slow.

This enhances your ability to think clearly. The short-short version of the forecasting formula is "use probabilities and check your ego." it elaborates on this, and teaches how to use probabilities and when and how to check your ego. Perhaps more importantly, it will help you spot others' errors and see through their predictions.

The average human forecaster is no better than a monkey throwing darts. Evolutionarily, we have developed a simple three-dial system for making decision: Do I see a huge dangerous predator? Yes, run. Maybe, stay alert/run. No, relax. Whenever we do venture into predictions, it's with a vague vocabulary filled with rubbery words: may, soon, highly likely, unlikely . . . The statement "Greece may default in the near future" really doesn't mean anything: may is completely uncertain, and the near future unspecific.

The Good Judgement project is and was an immense study funded and organized by the IARPA, an intelligence version of DARPA established to drastically improve the quality of predictions produced by the intelligence community (IC). The study examined the predictions of thousands of "ordinary" people in response to specific questions about world events in the future months. The results of the study yielded a group known as "superforecasters", those with an extraordinary ability to predict the future.

Superforecasting is an easy journey through the probabilistic and experimental traps that impinge our ability to anticipate the future. Sensational title aside, the book is far less focused on cultivating superhuman ability than on understanding limits – a refreshing departure from the impossible promises that usually fester in the margins between pop science and self-help.

When I saw Philip Tetlock, writer of "Expert Political Judgment" (which is one of my all-time favorite books), had found fruitful forecasting techniques and had worked with Dan Gardner (author of "Future Babble", which is I also really like), I had high expectations. I think that the collaboration led to a book that was much clearer and straightforward, but at the cost of the nuance that makes "Expert Political Judgment" an absolute triumph. 

One of the best books I have read in a while. This book does a great job outlining ways to improve decision making by making forecasting into a science. It does a good job presenting this information in the form of stories and quips that keep you interested and coming back for more. I believe it will be very easy to apply what you have learned in the book to everyday life to become a better person.

Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction is a wonderful read on a fascinating subject which we all do to some degree every single day of our lives - forecasting. Tetlock and Gardner paint the picture of why we struggle at predicting uncertain things and illustrate several ways we can improve our abilities to improve in this area. For example, if you are working in a basketball, football or any sports organisation, one of the core elements of your job is forecasting how players may perform in a different offensive system, defensive system, with different teams and in several scenarios.

“Now you can predict the lottery numbers.”No pressure.

This book is not that type of book, but it is still worth the read to those of us who feel the need to quantify everything. The book documents the inaccuracy of TV pundits and, through a website in which anyone can make quantifiable forecasts, tracks the accuracy of forecasters on key economic and world issues. Through a scoring system, the super forecasters are identified and studied.

QUOTES FROM SUPERFORECASTING:

“For scientists, not knowing is exciting. It’s an opportunity to discover; the more that is unknown, the greater the opportunity.” 

“If you don’t get this elementary, but mildly unnatural, mathematics of elementary probability into your repertoire, then you go through a long life like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.” 

•Lawrence Nwaodu is a small business expert and enterprise consultant, trained in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, with an MBA in Entrepreneurship from The Management School, University of Liverpool, United Kingdom, and MSc in Finance and Financial Management Services from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University Netherlands. Mr. Nwaodu is the Lead Consultant at IDEAS Exchange Consulting, Lagos. He can be reached via nwaodu.lawrence@hotmail.co.uk (07066375847).

Source News Express

Posted 13/03/2017 4:19:55 PM

 

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