Buddhas, Bullet Trains and the Pitfalls of Forecasting Outcomes
It's amazing how much trust we place in experts whose specialty is to forecast the future - be it economic, financial, political or meteorological. Likewise, we also forgive these experts when they are wrong, which is frequent.
Keith, I'm as surprised as you are at the new jobs report but this is what it may be telling us!
If you get paid to forecast then kudos to you. There seems to be a healthy market for your employment. If you don't, you may want to check in on how often you do this activity yourself and how much trust and forgiveness you impart on the original forecast. Especially a variant of forecasting that is more a defense mechanism than a useful tool.
Humans are forecasting machines
We constantly forecast outcomes to predict risk and inform our decision making. Forecasting helps to boost certainty and confidence and helps us make better choices. Just as we can put too much trust in a forecast we can also be guilty of forecasting just to reinforce a line of reasoning or protect a habit that may not serve us in the long run. Both situations occur in part because of cognitive biases and confirmation bias in particular. Confirmation bias is ‘the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one's existing beliefs or theories'. Humans use this more as a defensive maneuver than as an accurate prediction tool. It's really simple to see if this is happening with regard to biased forecasting. If certainty in belief is present from the get go and there is some strong emotional attachment to a specific outcome then you may be guilty of this practice. Global Creatives can be especially vulnerable to this unreliable method of forecasting in two ways:
1. We predict negative or incomplete outcomes to stay out of action.
It's not quite right…
I don’t have enough information...
With ADHD this can be a smokescreen to cover for the transition between planning and task initiation. So we make the outcomes look dreary to protect for a 'glitchy starter' (an executive function breakdown with initiating tasks). These stationary Buddha types are pretty good at the awareness thing but not great at engaging action on a regular basis. The Buddhas I know often identify with the ADHD inattentive descriptor.
2. We predict overly optimistic outcomes to jump into action ignoring real risks and noteworthy obstacles — destined to repeat past mistakes.
Use it or Lose it!
This will end differently than last time!
This opportunity may never come again!
With ADHD these Nirvana forecasts will have us ignore or miss valuable details that may be contrary to our picture of success. We make the outcome look perfect to cover for challenges associated with attention to detail, processes at play (like time estimation) and difficulty extracting learning from hard fought lessons. These fast moving Bullet Train types are pretty good at staying in action but are not great at creating self awareness or reflecting on past experiences to incorporate into new engagements. The Bullet Trains I know often identify with the ADHD hyperactive/impulsive descriptor.
Our two characters illustrated above may seem to be unlikely representatives of the same ADHD cohort but they have more in common cognitively than not. Both struggle with the universal ADHD challenge of inertia. Inertia is a Newtonian law of motion that states that objects will basically keep doing what they are already doing. The Earth will continue on its path around the Sun, a stalled car on flat ground is hard to get rolling. With respect to ADHD, executive function breakdowns limit the ability to transition between a state of thinking (planning, strategizing, reflecting, analyzing…) and a state of doing (action, implementation, execution, delegating…) and back again. This glitchy ‘pivot’ mechanism is a consistent ADHD challenge and we cover for that challenge by predicting outcomes that are most likely to occur. An individual in a thinking state, our Buddha character, will predict an outcome that will rationalize staying in his current state of awareness be it in the form of doubt, worry, regret or anxiousness. An individual in an active state, our Bullet Train character, will predict an outcome that will likewise rationalize staying in his current state of action regardless of the impact of doing so (think ‘foot in mouth’ or ‘bull in china shop’ scenarios here). Our belief systems want to protect us and our interests but in these scenarios they get in the way of recognizing the actual cognitive breakdown at play.
What to Do
Start with the stories you tell yourself. Are they like the examples above? Do you identify with the Buddha or the Bullet Train character? Or both?
Do you find yourself rationalizing procrastination or conversely jumping into action prematurely?
Here is what I know. Both characters can benefit from just a little of the other’s natural state. What would it look like to put that Buddha and Bullet Train together? For the Buddha, a change of scenery and new results from taking action - some new activity to inform his natural awareness state. For the Bullet Train, a little insight and learning to go along with all of their activity - some new awareness to inform his natural engagement state.
A Lean or Agile approach and using a little AEC Model can help in both instances. All rely on short sprints and informed actions with a focus on planning, testing, doing and evaluating. The key is to balance awareness with engagement as one proceeds forward through a project. So forecasting is happening but on a shorter timeline.
Forecasting is an activity that always happens on the front side of action. Projecting outcomes lives in the realm of awareness. On the backside of action lives another type of awareness - awareness of the event or rather reflecting on the experience to gain new real data. Both Lean and Agile rely on data derived from activity (and not just thought) to inform new learning and next actions.