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Predict More Presciently

6 It takes little effort to make predictions. Perhaps that’s why so many people get them wrong.
Pundits guess what will happen with the economy, geopolitics or consumer behavior. Within companies, executives make sales projections, predict the cost of raw materials and assess staffing needs in the year ahead.

Some leaders seem preternaturally gifted at making accurate predictions. What do they know that others don’t?

As a rule, the most astute observers of the present gain a better grip on the future. They also think logically, sift through various data points and prioritize what matters most. To enhance your predictive power:

Go beyond your gut. If you make predictions solely on what your gut tells you, beware of blowback. It’s unlikely that your instinctive sense of what the future will bring will produce an accurate result.
“Natural human decision-making is gut-driven,” said Dan Gardner, a risk communications consultant at Tactix, an Ottawa, Canadabased firm. “That often works well. But when it comes to forecasting, that’s a bad way to approach it.”

He cautions that what seems intuitively true may not necessarily prove true. When rushing to make predictions, it’s tempting to skip a methodical analysis.

Add a step. Rather than make predictions and then spring into action, break the process into two steps. Say to yourself, “I think this is true; now let me think about it some more,” as opposed to, “I think this is true, so I’ll act on it now.”

“You need to slow it down,” said Gardner, author of “Future Babble.” “You need to engage in conscious thought.”

Track your thinking. When you opine, proceed with care. That’s especially true if you start making assertions about what hasn’t happened yet.

“Sometimes, people don’t realize that they’ve made a prediction,” Gardner said. “Look at your thinking and ask, ‘Is there a forecast buried in there?’ Unpack your thinking and ask if it rests on certain assumptions.”

Start with stats. Say you’re predicting whether one particular family owns a dog. You examine details such as the number of kids at home and the layout of the property.

A better starting point is to determine how many single-family households have dogs.
“Always start with the base rate, which is the frequency of something within a category,” Gardner said. From there, broaden your analysis to incorporate details of a given situation.

Weigh the two Rs. Heighten the odds of making a sound prediction by weighing two key factors: relevancy and reliability.

Carl Spetzler, chief executive of Strategic Decisions Group in San Mateo, Calif., suggests asking yourself, “What’s relevant?” and “How reliable does my estimate have to be?” to guide your prediction.
Open wide. Beware of basing your prediction on information that’s most familiar to you. Don’t close yourself off to strands of data that you might otherwise ignore.

“People typically fall into the trap of not looking at a wide enough range of alternatives,” said Spetzler, co-author of “Decision Quality.” “People have a natural tendency to jump in without asking if they’re framing it right, so they frame it too narrowly.”

Set a realistic standard. Instead of trying to predict with precision, strive to aim in the right direction. Wrapping your mind around what’s more likely to occur works better than insisting on seeing the future with crystal clarity.

“The human mind is wired for all kinds of biases,” Spetzler said. “There’s lots of wishful thinking with rosy predictions. Take out your biases and introduce an understanding of uncertainty. It’s not about certainty; it’s about getting the ranges right.”

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