Superforecasters

If I asked you how likely your new January signing was to be a success, what would you say?

Assuming you acquired an established player your natural instinct is that you really want your new signing to play every match between now and the end of the season – to boost your chances of survival or provide fresh impetus for a charge up the table.

Before signing the player, you were probably dubious about the agent’s account of why it didn’t work out at the previous club, but perhaps took comfort from the coach’s desire to sign him, the player’s own attitude, his performance stats, and the background checks of course. The more information you collated, the more boxes got ticked and the more optimistic you became.

Without realising, you created your own forecast of how successful your new acquisition might be. Or, more likely, how successful you wanted the acquisition to be. Because the truth is that when we really want something (or someone, in our example) to work out, we are always prone to optimism-bias.

There are a group of people, however, who would look at the problem in a different way: the ‘Superforecasters’.

In fact, Superforecasters would approach the question by first asking another question of their own: how much does a typical peak-age January signing play between the close of transfer window and the end of the season?

Around 55% of minutes is the answer.

This norm (the 55%, in our example) is what statisticians call the base rate – essentially a benchmark created from past data. In our own projection conundrum, Superforecasters would start with this base rate before considering any other available information. It’s worth emphasising that all the other contextual factors (the player’s attitude, the background checks, his performance stats etc) are still vital aspects of the due diligence process, it’s just that Superforecasters prefer not to start there for fear of anchoring themselves in subjective waters.

At 21st Club, we’ve even developed a way to forecast the Expected Success of new transfers. If you want to understand more about how the model can improve the decisions we make about potential new signings, then we’d love to hear from you.

In their brilliant book ‘Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction’, co-authors Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner suggest that we are all forecasters: “when we think about changing jobs, getting married, buying a home, making an investment, launching a product, or retiring, we decide based on how we expect the future will fold.”

Forecasting is essentially about estimating the likelihood of something happening. The goal is not to be right every time, but rather to be less wrong most of the time. And with some healthy curiosity and a simple process grounded in objectivity, we can all be Superforecasters.

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