Philip Tetlock wrote a terrific book last year titled Superforecasters. In that book, he describes the decades of research he has conducted on expert predictions. Put simply, he has found that experts don't make great prognosticators, despite their vast knowledge and experience. Knowing a great deal does not enable you to see the future. In fact, it can be a handicap at times, because you may be tied down by conventional wisdom, long-held assumptions, and pre-existing beliefs. In Tetlock's research, he has found that a small set of people have an uncanny ability to make accurate predictions. These people are not experts in the domain in which they made those forecasts. What enables them to predict so effectively? Tetlock conclues that the key is HOW THEY THINK, not what they know. The best forecasters exhibit the following characteristics:
- They are open-minded, reflective, and intellectually curious.
- They acknowledge what they do not know.
- They gather information from a wide variety of sources and question the validity of each source.
- They enjoy pondering a range of diverse views, and they update their conclusions as facts change.
- They treat beliefs as testable hypotheses rather than hard truths.
In my view, the same might be said about the best leaders. They often distinguish themselves by how they think, not what they know. The best leaders are reflective and intellectually curious, question the conventional wisdom, do not become wedding to existiing beliefs, admit what they do not know, critique the validity of information sources, and gather diverse opinions before making key decisions.