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Evaluating the Mental Model

We all want to be able to predict the future. The better you can predict the future, the more control you have once it arrives.

Every allocation of resources is a bet on what’s to come. Liverpool invested in sophisticated analytics and it paid off – other clubs are now following suit.

Amidst the rush to innovate and improve, though, it’s important to remember our most important tool: the human mental model. Our minds deserve the same rigorous assessment and analysis as any playing model or analytics tool.

The mental model plays two roles in the decision process. First, every decision involves intuitive observations; while data has become more important, subjective evaluations will always play a role. Second, every decision requires the synthesising and contextualising of aggregated information; the research is only as good as the decision-maker’s ability to turn it into a good decision.

In the book, Superforecasting, authors Dan Gardner and Philip E. Tetlock analyze the shared traits of people who have demonstrated a superior ability to predict how events will unfold, deemed “superforecasters.” The authors declare, “Forecast, measure, revise: it is the surest path to seeing better.” After every decision, the decision maker must analyze the results of the final selection, then review the results in relation to the process.  

We have found that there are three areas a decision maker must reflect on his or her personal mental model:

    1. His or her own instinctual biases. Everyone has subjective preferences about football — most of us were just fans at one point! Where do those views create blinders that drown out other key information?
    2. New information as it arrives. People have a tendency to make a quick decision, then mold each new piece of information to match the original instinct — confirmation bias. Sometimes the striker who hits a goal drought isn’t in a “slump”, she has just regressed to her mean.
    3. New patterns as the world evolves. History books are littered with titans who struggled to adapt to a changing world. The world looks different in 2020 than it did in 2015. Transfer revenue, for example, has historically been seen as a volatile business, but forward-thinking clubs have been able to create a dependable, self-sufficient fourth revenue stream in recent years.

Once you understand the nature of the mental model, you can both improve it and provide a framework to support it. Useful tools include a diverse set of opinions and expertise in the process, analytical tools with weighting options to balance mental preferences, or an outside view to help anchor the context.

Like the craft of playing football, the art of making the big decisions requires a mix of talent and hard work. As Gardner and Tetlock explain, “superforecasting demands thinking that is open-minded, careful, curious, and – above all – self critical.”

In humans’ efforts to optimise as many variables as possible, we shouldn’t exclude ourselves.

About Bobby Warshaw

Bobby Warshaw has created 2 entries.