In this week's reviews of great business books: how to improve your accuracy when predicting the future and why competition and cooperation aren't mutually exclusive. Plus: the source for most of what we know about marketing today.

 

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Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction
Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner
Crown Publishers (2015)

We cannot know the future. But we can often surmise enough about the future to be able to make better decisions, according to Superforecasting. Philip Tetlock, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania (writing with the journalist Dan Gardner) has spent decades researching our facility for prediction. And-good news-we can get better at it, as Tetlock learned during the Good Judgment Project, an experiment conducted in collaboration with members of the intelligence community to enhance the accuracy of geopolitical forecasting. Tetlock and his team identified a cohort of "superforecasters: folks able to predict with remarkable accuracy everything from global events to market fluctuations. And we're not talking the Nate Silvers and Tom Friedmans of the world here. Rather, superforecasters are ordinary joes and janes who are also, among other things, connoisseurs of evidence, analysts of comparable situations, eschewers of cognitive bias, and dividers of unquantifiable wholes into quantifiable parts.

Tetlock is equally good on the mathematical and mental approaches to forecasting. Plus you've got to admire a guy who transforms the name of the physicist Enrico Fermi into a verb. (To "Fermi-ize" is to unpack unknowable problems into smaller, knowable ones.) Superforecasting bracingly refocuses the conversation away from the power of computers (big data!) versus the flaws of human cognition (behavioral economics!) "We will need to blend computer-based forecasting and subjective judgment in the future," write Tetlock and Gardner. "So it's time we got serious about both."

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Friend & Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both
Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer
Crown Business (2015)

If Friend and Foe were just about negotiations it would still be pretty good. But Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer, professors at Columbia Business School and Wharton, respectively, cut a wide swath through subjects like team dynamics, organizational behavior and the creation and restoration of trust. Their central assertion is uncontroversial: "our most important relationships are neither cooperative nor competitive. Instead, they are both." Other contentions--hierarchy can be good; lying can be ethical and even beneficial for cooperation--are less expected. In this well balanced blend of anecdote and empirical research, the authors offer both big ideas and fascinating concrete advice on, for example, whether you want your product to be the first one a customer sees or the last (depends on the number of options) and how to recognize deception. Their discussion of the blinding effect of power is especially fascinating and well worth a read in this election season. In the next debates we should consider asking all candidates to draw the letter "E" on their foreheads. Those who draw it backwards really don't care about people like you.

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From the Backlist

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The Marketing Imagination
Theodore Levitt
Free Press (1983)

If there were a Mount Rushmore for marketing, Theodore Levitt would be right up there in Washington's spot. The economist and Harvard Business School professor published the seminal article "Marketing Myopia" in Harvard Business Review in 1960; it later appeared in the second edition of this book. Levitt argues that, "the history of every dead and dying 'growth' industry shows a self-deceiving cycle of bountiful expansion and undetected decay," and companies require a process for creating or increasing demand. He was among the first to insist that companies focus on "buying customers" by being and doing whatever "will make people want to do business with them. And the chief executive," he writes, "has the inescapable responsibility for creating this environment, this viewpoint, this attitude, this aspiration."