Some people have a gift for predicting the future. Not a vague, ambiguous prediction, but reasoned, cautious and thoughtful foresight. These people can see the likelihood of a companies’ commercial success or the outcome of elections better than anyone else. They are called “super-forecasters”, and what they can teach us about how to make smarter judgements could save companies billions, or even prevent countries from going to war.
In 2007, Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s then chief executive, told USA Today that “there’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share”. He later went on to predict Apple might take 2-3% of the growing mobile market. Ultimately, Apple’s global market share peaked at about 23% in early 2012. Ballmer made bad predictions. (This article is adapted from an episode of CrowdScience from the BBC World Service. You can listen to the whole programme by following the link – Can I predict the future?).
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Ballmer did not possess the characteristics of a super-forecaster – humility, open-mindedness, inquisitiveness, among other things. What made things worse was his lack of willingness to amend his forecast. The people who make the best predictions about the future are also happy to change their prediction when presented with new information. Ballmer did not, and Microsoft’s presence in the smartphone market suffered as a result. Some critics have described him as “the worst CEO of a large public company” in the US.