Before deferring to authority, start trusting your reason and common sense

What The Buddha said more than 2500 years ago is still worth hearing. Authority—a.k.a. “the experts”—may have no better answers to problems than you can find for yourself.

It’s fascinating how what goes around, comes around.

The Buddha counseled people against putting their trust in expert authority—including himself.

Today’s Management Issues reports on a study that shows that the ability of experts to predict outcomes in tough situations is little better than guesswork.

A study about predicting the outcome of actual conflicts has found that the forecasts of experts who use their unaided judgment are actually little better than those of novices or random guesswork. [. . .] What they found was that the experts — conflict, domain and forecasting specialists — correctly forecasted the decisions made by the various parties in only a third (32 per cent) of the cases. That’s barely better than the strike-rate of the undergraduates, who got it right 29 per cent of the time. Just using random guesswork would deliver the right outcomes 28 per cent of the time.

To be fair, the study used “unaided judgment” as its basis. Experts sometimes have access to sources of information that are not open to ordinary people and which might help them do better.

However, the point remains that using your own common sense looks to be just about as good a guide to tough decisions as the judgment of experts.

Kesten Green said that the research has serious consequences for foreign policy and business: “Forecasting problems such as this are the stuff of not only international relations but also of takeover battles, commercial competition, and labor-management disputes. In most cases, experts use their judgment to predict what will happen. How good are their forecasts? The short answer is that they are of little value in terms of accuracy. In addition, they lead people into false confidence.”

In a crisis? Ignore the experts by Management Issues.

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