Back in the 1990’s, Yahoo concluded that they understood where the market was going — they needed a curated index with a good portal. So they built one. During that time, Yahoo was offered to buy Google for $1M but turned them down because it’s not about search, it’s about portals. No one predicted Google coming nor it’s impact – even the founders of Google didn’t know it would become as big as it did. Of course, once Google splashed on the scene it became easy for us to tell ourselves a story about why search was so important and why we should have seen this coming.
Nassim Taleb calls this the black swan problem. We think we’ve got it all figured out, something comes that we didn’t see and that brings earth shattering consequences. Then we tell ourselves a story about why we should have seen it coming bringing us right back to believing we’ve got it all figured out.
We love certainty. We want to know what’s coming next. Astrologists and fortune tellers have been making money on this primal desire for millenia. When we hear various prognostications, we latch on to the ones that confirm either our deepest fears or our greatest hopes. We disregard contrary data or uncertainty in the prediction. We don’t even consider whether the person making the prediction has a track record of accuracy. We ignore all the misses and latch on to the successes, creating the delusion that we know what’s going to happen next.
We do the same thing with our own predictions. We forget the errors, or excuse them because of some factor we hadn’t considered. We remember the ones we got right, reinforcing our desire to keep predicting and increasing our confidence in those predictions. All because we don’t want to live in a world where we don’t know what comes next.
Prognostications are cheap, telling us stories that we want to believe. We’d rather live with certainty in a probable lie than with the uncertainty that comes with not knowing. We should beware of those confident in their predictions of what’s coming next and be okay with not knowing, living with the uncertainty. In the end, we all live by faith and not by knowledge.
Photo Credit: Jason Samfield