Recommended Reading – Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction

A quick note on book recommendations:

I’ve been working on reading a book a week this year (see more here) and thinking how best to share the really good ones. Usually by the time I find the book, there are plenty of reviews out there so I don’t think that another one offers much value.

That being said, I think a short recommendation could be useful and serve as a good reminder to myself of some the ideas captured in the book. My plan is to focus on a few concepts/quotes that I found inspirational and that would hopefully serve as a proxy of why the book is worth investing some of your time in.

With that, here comes my first recommendation for the year – Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction.

Thinking about the future? Trying to figure out what will happen next?

The book Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction should be on your reading list. Philip Tetlock covers the topic of how we form theories and why some of us are significantly better than others when it comes to predicting what will happen in the future.

The book covers research that Tetlock and his team performed over a 20-year period to determine if there were people out there that could forecast the future with a better success that others. The results were fascinating and determined that there were ‘superforecasters‘ that could repeatedly beat the experts year over year.

A few highlights from the book:

Foresight isn’t a mysterious gift bestowed at birth. It is the product of particular ways of thinking, of gathering information, of updating beliefs.

For superforecasters, beliefs are hypotheses to be tested, not treasures to be guarded.

Forecasters who practice get better at distinguishing finer degrees of uncertainty, just as artists get better at distinguishing subtler shades of gray.

This is not complicated stuff. But it’s easy to misinterpret randomness. We don’t have an intuitive feel for it. Randomness is invisible from the tip-of-your-nose perspective. We can only see it if we step outside ourselves.

Superforecasting isn’t a paint-by-numbers method but superforecasters often tackle questions in a roughly similar way—one that any of us can follow: Unpack the question into components. Distinguish as sharply as you can between the known and unknown and leave no assumptions unscrutinized.

The advice on how to improve your forecasting skills was enough for me to recommend this book on its own, but it was the research on teams that I found the most fascinating and applicable. Tetlock found that if a team followed a path of ‘constructive confrontation‘ and avoided perils like groupthink, their ability to forecast the future was dramatically improved. I also really enjoyed the example of the how the JFK administration adapted its decision-making process after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion (HRB has a good summary on how JFK changed decision-making).

Tetlock writes on the benefit of teamwork,

On average, when a forecaster did well enough in year 1 to become a superforecaster, and was put on a superforecaster team in year 2, that person became 50% more accurate. An analysis in year 3 got the same result. Given that these were collections of strangers tenuously connected in cyberspace, we found that result startling.

Hopefully, by this point I have peaked your interests enough to want to read the book (if you are looking for a longer review, check out the Economist’s post). I think you will find it a good investment of your time.

Let me know what you think!