Experience is mandatory.
Learning is optional.
Today’s headlines include the news that Washington State is legalizing the recreational sale of marijuana. How should a leader — or aspiring leader — handle such a potentially disruptive event?
By learning from it.
Here is how to predict the future by journaling.
Pundits Don’t Count
Leaders differ profoundly from pundits (who will always be given headlines) because the job of the pundit is to amuse, to enrage, and to drive viewership, readership and web traffic.
By contrast, the leader’s job is to accurately anticipate an uncertain future.
A pundit can be wrong consistently, as long as he tells his core constituency what they want to hear and as long as he makes his publisher money. (Paul Ehrlich made a comfortable living this way.)
A true leader must become progressively less wrong or lose her leadership position.
Here’s the practice I teach leaders on predicting the future.
Admit you’re Predicting
We all predict the future without calling it that. Start admitting you’re doing it. Every act of preparation is a prediction. Every choice contains predictions.
However we cannot learn from casual prediction. Our brains are wired to rationalize and justify results after the fact. How many of us “saw the crisis coming” — whether it was the housing bubble, the financial crisis, or any other — and how many of us confidently moved our investment dollars to capitalize on it? To the first question we must answer “many” and to the second “few.”
We mistake our own past predictive power because, after the fact, the confirming evidence is so obviously right, and the confusing and dis-confirming evidence falls out of our active memory.
Write Your Predictions
Every time you make a significant prediction or decision, write it down — along with your major reasons for doing it, a few reasons against you that you’re choosing to disregard, and your predicted outcome.
I’ve hated doing this at first.
When I started I had to write down a prediction that had already failed. I bought a subscription to a service for consultants — a very useful one — because I thought that I’d start to use it, and in using it, I would start to gain more clients. Except I didn’t use it reliably.
When it was time to renew the subscription I canceled — and journaled about it as described here.
That’s when I realized I’d bought two other, different subscription type products in prior years. These too hadn’t helped me — despite being good products that worked quite well for others.
After staring at my journal pages for a while, it finally dawned on me that I was attempting to use the purchase of a subscription to drive myself to behave in a new way (specifically around prospecting for clients) — and it never worked. My behavior needs other spurs to change.
Review Your Predictions
Week by week as you journal, you’ll collect some good predictions, large and small. Every month or two, look back and review old predictions.
Notice your own patterns.
Most of us are quite terrible at deciding and predicting.
That new salesman who you were sure was going to knock it out of the park… and who never seemed to make any calls. You fired him after three months. What were you thinking when you hired him?
Seriously — what were your thought patterns? If you don’t know, you’ll think those same thoughts again. If you wrote them down, you can review them and grow wiser.
Your future predictions will become better. You’ll learn what you’re good at, bad at, and blind to.
Selling Pot in Washington State
In a decade or two we’ll know definitively what happened with the experiment of selling pot in Washington State. But most of those who’ve made predictions about it — that crime will rise, or fall, or change, or stay the same — will escape mentally unscathed and unenlightened. They won’t have written down their predictions with their reasons, they won’t review them with humility and a sincere desire to learn, and they’ll be older but no wiser.
In just three months, you can — with this practice — grow your wisdom.
(I recommend a journal you’ll enjoy writing in. I use Leuchtturm Journals, and many folks love the similar products from Moleskine. A great pen is worth investing in — I use a Zebra F-301 or this disposable Varsity fountain pen by Pilot.)
We all have experiences.
Leaders learn from them.