Note — May 12, 2019

Why Is It So Hard to Predict the Future?

Seen in → No.79

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Article adapted from David Epstein’s book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. I’m always there for pieces on hybrids, generalists, neogeneralists, t-shaped, key-shaped, square-shaped, and other transdisciplinarians. Epstein looks at multi-decade research about forecasting and how specialists constantly can’t predict with any accuracy while generalists manage to do better. In short; people who are broadly curious, and interested in multiple fields, fare better and adjust their models more easily when proven wrong. Caveat; the article paints all specialists as blind to anything outside their discipline, which is not the case, and it’s a bit annoying to not see that mentioned.

One subgroup of scholars, however, did manage to see more of what was coming. Unlike Ehrlich and Simon, they were not vested in a single discipline. They took from each argument and integrated apparently contradictory worldviews. […]

The highly specialized hedgehogs knew “one big thing,” while the integrator foxes knew “many little things.” […]

Foxes, meanwhile, “draw from an eclectic array of traditions, and accept ambiguity and contradiction,” Tetlock wrote. Where hedgehogs represent narrowness, foxes embody breadth. […]

[T]hey identified a small group of the foxiest forecasters—bright people with extremely wide-ranging interests and unusually expansive reading habits, but no particular relevant background—and weighted team forecasts toward their predictions. They destroyed the competition. […]

They were “curious about, well, really everything,” as one of the top forecasters told me. They crossed disciplines, and viewed their teammates as sources for learning, rather than peers to be convinced. […]

[W]hen making an argument, foxes often use the word however, while hedgehogs favor moreover.