Regardless of your business vertical – retail, FMCG, automotive, financial services or media – one of your primary objectives is building mutually valuable relationships with real people.
The dread specter of predicting the shape of things to come has arisen for the yearly assembly of various experts to affix their prognostication goggles and put their hard-earned reputations on the line about their thoughts on the year ahead.
The trouble is humans are absolutely terrible at predicting the future and according to much scientific evidence the very worst people at doing so are experts.
Humans are the most psychologically complex creatures on the planet with tremendously messy egos, awash with anxieties, prejudices, biases and emotions that fizz together to make us extremely attached to ideologies and ideas and which form a potent perceptual prism, through which we view a version of reality that largely contains the viewer.
These emotional attachments mean that people are frequently fantasizing about the future when they try to predict it. Often this future is one within which they will personally benefit. A common example is asking people who will win an election or win a football match; their response will be highly biased towards their preferred outcome.
This fantasy phenomenon was termed ‘unrealistic optimism’ by Neil Weinstein, a psychologist working at Rutgers University. Weinstein found that people were not in denial about the future, but they had a significant tendency to skew the probability of things happening based on projected preferred perception.
Unrealistic optimism is turned up to 11 in the minds of experts, which was the focus of a longitudinal study of the predictive prowess of experts v generalists conducted by professor Philip Tetlock and his team at Wharton University.
Tetlock’s research examined why experts’ predictive skills were very often no better than chance, summed up as: ‘the average expert is as accurate at predicting the future as a dart throwing chimpanzee’.
The study found that the key determinant of predictive success had nothing at all to do with educational attainment, access to classified information, or what people thought. Nor whether they were an optimist or pessimist, rightwing or leftwing. The critical factor was how they thought; it was primarily about their psychology and identity.
Tetlock found that experts tended to be idealistic in their overall approach. Their thinking was based on one big preferred theory, strongly related to their specific area of expertise and as such they sought to frame complex problems into their preferred cause-effect templates, seeking out and giving weight to evidence that validated their existing view, whilst downplaying or ignoring anything contradictory. This is as classic an example of classic confirmation bias as you can find.
Experts are often highly confident and likely to declare things ‘impossible’ or ‘certain’. Committed to their conclusions, they were reluctant to change their minds even when their predictions had clearly failed.
Experts vs generalists
Conversely, Tetlock found that generalists tended to be pragmatic in their overall approach, they gathered information from many and more diverse sources, they talked about possibilities and probabilities, not certainties. They used evidence to challenge their ideas and they readily admitted when they were wrong, and changed their minds as new ideas or information came to light.
The contrast between experts and generalists is an example of metacognition, the ability to be aware of thought processes and as such, be able to reflect and change how decisions are made based on feedback from the real world.
Despite these profoundly human issues with prediction, being aware of them means you can start to change how you think and how you conceive the idea of what the future may be, and what this means.
To predict the future you need a total perspective on reality – examining things from many angles, different perspectives, and scrutinizing the threads that connect and influence each part.
And to do this you need to assemble a team of the most extremely diverse set of people you can get your hands on and then smash them together.
The team needs to be full of experts and generalists, contrarians, moonshot thinkers, unholy alliances and weirdos.
They need to mix Socratic logic with bizarre leaps of imagination, be devil’s advocates, ask and ponder strange questions from every angle, and collectively stretch the human mind into new and peculiar shapes, in order to think the unthinkable.
The integrated experience
This is how Tribal works when devising what we call ‘Total Experience’ – a process that keeps the bigger picture in mind all the time. This means that whether we are making a single part, a collection or the whole of the customer experience we get to more effective work faster, we solve more of the problem and take greater advantage of an opportunity.
The ‘Total Experience’ promise ensures we unlock value by looking at the totality of the businesses we work with. By always looking to develop and extend our viewpoints we develop more ‘Total Experiences’ that drive business growth.
Our internal practices and agency culture are built around us having a collective and inquisitive nature.
We believe true innovation comes from enabling our collective to develop new points of view. And by exploring new ways of working and new technologies, we are able to develop newer, and more total experiences that create better outcomes and unique commercial advantages for our clients.
To hear more predictions for 2020, attend our Predictions breakfast event on 21 Jan, register here.