The Fox and The Hedgehog.
How much faith should we place in our thought leaders and their outlook on the decades ahead?
Professor Philip Tetlock wanted an answer. He would listen to these modern-day prophets and wonder whether their confidence was warranted. He spent nearly 20 years recording and assessing the accuracy of their forecasts.
The findings of his research were clear. The predictions put forward, on everything from election results to armed conflicts and natural disasters to regime changes, were no better than if made with the roll of a dice. The gleeful line from the news reports sung out: 'the experts are as precise as dart-throwing chimps!'
But it was far from the full story.
A closer analysis showed the performance of the forecasters was divided into two groups. One was more accurate than average; the other far less. Something was separating the two…
Those who doubted themselves and made caveats about their predictions performed well. Professor Tetlock called them Foxes and they were willing to change their minds. While those who held doggedly to a certain view of the world, the Hedgehogs, dragged everyone down. If new evidence revealed itself they would simply twist it to meet their perspective.
We’re listening to wrong animal.
The problem is that the Hedgehogs sound so certain about their predictions that it’s easy to believe they're more capable than the Foxes. We follow them on Twitter and hire them into our leadership positions. We watch them online and read their opinions in magazines. And we overweight the value of their loud, assertive ideas in our meeting rooms.
If we’re going to make better predictions, and therefore better decisions in the world of work, it would be better to listen to the Foxes.
The Hedgehogs have had their turn.
(Read more about decision-making, and the shared characteristics of brilliant forecasters in Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner's 'Superforecasting; The Art and Science of Prediction')