Last night, a new word appeared to me … okay, it’s not actually a new word; it’s just one I haven’t seen or noticed before. Yesterday, while reading Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb1, the word “postdiction” was presented, which is basically the opposite of prediction. It is undertaken in order to effectively cover your ass (or make yourself look good) by cherry picking your predictions with the benefit of retroactive vision. Here is where the hindsight bias1 comes into play. Do you engage in postdiction? Have you ever? Being human, surely you have … as we all like to be right. Our ego (no matter how small or insignificant) demands it of us. We know that we have a horrible record of success with prediction, and then—onto your stage—comes postdiction! Voila, all of a sudden you don’t look so dumb.
The true warrior does not lie to himself or herself. True warriors listen to that musical note or chime from within that lets them know when they are on track. They are also vigilant for that sense of discomfort or unease that signals a step away from the truth, or a drifting from the path. The true warrior does not postdict. When picking apart recent events, the true warrior approaches it much more like a coroner would approach a post-mortem. It is a truth-seeking and fact-finding mission. True warriors are aware of the dangers of hindsight bias, confirmation bias1, and a host of other problems that may skew their view of the data or facts they uncover. With this awareness, they hope to get closer to an understanding of the reality of this historical review … keeping in mind that they could unknowingly and completely colour their own interpretation with their biases. Because of this, an independent review of their results is encouraged, in addition to their own investigation.
“Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.” This is what Robert Sternberg (an American psychologist, and psychometrician) had to say in response to a 1999 lecture, given at Yale, by Michael Shermer—a monthly columnist for Scientific American—on his new book, Smart People Believe Weird Things1.
The true warrior laughs at himself or herself frequently, because they are smart and hold some strange beliefs. They are willing to regularly examine their beliefs, and when they discover some of these strange beliefs, and challenge their assumptions (either individually through introspection or through discussions within the team or tribe), they love to be exposed as holding an absurd belief … and are willing to laugh at themselves for it. The bigger the laugh, the better for all concerned.
You are warriors. You will find profit in the post-mortem. You will find only self-aggrandizement (which you can’t spend) in postdiction. With more profit and less self-aggrandizement, you will be well positioned to achieve great success. So it has been written.
2. Hindsight Bias – Looking backwards and believing that the evidence you can now see was the reason (and is the proof of why) something occurred the way it did, rather than understanding the actual reason, which may have been randomness at work or something entirely unrelated to the so-called evidence you now observe.
3. Confirmation Bias – Looking at historical information, identifying that which resonates with our beliefs, and using that to support our arguments while simultaneously ignoring or rationalizing away any contrary evidence.