How to forecast better than a dart-throwing chimpanzee?

Book Review:  SUPERFORECASTING – The Art and Science of Prediction

by Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner

super forcasting book

What attracted me to this book was that it was recommended by the famous ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ author Daniel Kahneman,  the most quoted,  considered the most intellectual mind by eminent  Nasim Taleb,  and  followed my  husband, a fan of Kahneman’s books and words.

Another thing which attracted me was the first line in the excerpt said everyone would benefit from seeing further into future, whether buying stocks, crafting policy, launching a new products or simply planning the weeks meals. Having heard conversations about ‘Data’ and seen few forecasting abilities, I wanted to read more;)

The author Philip Tetlock is known for a study that coined the term that “TV pundits do as good a job on forecasting as a dart-throwing chimpanzee”.  Tetlock ran the Good Judgement project (GJP) an immense study funded by the intelligence community to help improve the quality of their forecasting. The study was conducted with about 2800 people participating in it for about $250 in Amazon gift card and bragging rights. With this masterwork, Tetlock partnered with brilliant journalist David Gardner to write this book  “ Superforecasting” and find the best traits and processes  that helped the best ie The super group of forecasters!

super forcasting book2

 What it does well :

  1. This well designed book is an easier read than most books on this topic. It lays down the process of forcasting well, with historical anecdotes, stories, statistics and more.
  2. The tone of the book starts of well, talking about the process of improvements in healthcare. The basic idea being test and track your hypothesis and results on a regular basis to make quality improvements.
  3. The Authors’ show that the superforecasting ability is based on principles of measurement, follow the trends and news and upgrade your predictions regularly, and relate facts from the past to present to help the process of predicting future.
  4. If you want to read one page in this book, jump to page 153, the first paragraph of Chapter 7 summarizes the complete process within half a page!
  5. The concept of hedgehogs and foxes , the platonian vs aristotles philosophies; hedgehogs way of viewing the world through the lens of a single defining idea vs the foxes who draw on a wide variety of experiences and for whom the world cannot be boiled down to a single idea ( ) has been mentioned in so many business books from different points of view; This book elaborates and explains why foxes are way better at forecasting. Not surprising, based on the fact that Dan Gardner, the co-author also wrote a whole book on this concept- “Future Babble: Why Pundits Are Hedgehogs and Foxes Know Best”
  6. Since the GJP tracked mostly ‘dedicated amateurs’ (great quote by a professional who did not want to compete against ‘unemployed news junkies’) the authors have a great pool of examples to work with. ‘Superforecasting thus talks from the experience of the best of 2000+ forecasters. This distinguishes this book from the other well know book of forecasting- Nate Silvers book ‘Noise and Signal- Why So Many Predictions Fail-but Some Don’t’ which comes from just one person’s experience, his own.

What it does not do well:

  1. The usage of ‘Super’ or the over usage of the word. Yes, I understand the book is talking about Superforecasters, but not every chapter has to start with Super.
  2. The chapter on ‘Superquants’ has very less on ‘quants’ on but merely on probability. Nate Silver covered the theory better based on Bayesian logic.
  3. As is true with many non-fiction books, this book could lose some weight. And the theory simplified rather than dragged out and repeated at times.

I received a copy  of this book from Blogging for Books and it has widened my horizon. I have to acknowledge that I would not have understood the depth of this book, with out the help of my husband who is very knowledgeable on his subject matter.  Even with these few shortcomings, this book is a must read for anyone in the forecasting business and aren’t we all….



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