Knowing how to make good guesses — really good guesses — is a skill so valuable that a mystique has grown up about it. Most of us believe that guessing right is so difficult that doing it consistently requires inborn talent, and there's no point trying to learn how to do it better. Many look upon shrewd guesses as examples of genius that we can't possibly emulate.
Although consistently shrewd guessing probably does require genius, we can learn how to make better guesses at least once in a while — for instance, when we're knowledgeable or when we have exceptional intuition about the specific domain of the guess. Here are some strategies for getting better at guessing right.
- Let go of trying to be right
- The defining property of guesses is that we can't be sure they're right. That's why an aversion to saying anything that might be wrong makes guessing difficult. This presents challenges for people in occupations in which credibility is highly valued. But even there, we can limit the impact of guessing on credibility by clearly identifying guesses as such.
- Believing that mistakes are disastrous constrains the imagination. Be willing to let your mind float.
- Don't fall in love with guesses
- A guess is not a fact. It might be a good guess, but it's still a guess, no matter how well it explains what you've observed, and no matter how much you prefer the world described by the implications of that guess.
- Distinguishing between factual reality and guesses can be difficult, because the mixture of guesses and facts is a more complex picture of the world than is a collection of facts. It's helpful to make more than one guess, because a multiplicity of guesses — three or more — is a reminder that guesses are not facts. When describing a guess to yourself or others, it also helps to begin with the phrase, "I don't know (or we can't know) for sure, but…"
- Look at the data you do have from strange and unique perspectives
- When we make A guess is not a fact.
It might be a good guess,
but it's still a guess.observations, we tend to use familiar vantage points. Stepping away from the familiar usually requires conscious intent, because the unfamiliar is unfamiliar.
- For instance, searching for commonalities between disparate items is difficult for pairs of items that don't usually go together. A rewarding question to ask about each pair might be, "If these two things had a common cause, what would that be?" The problem is even more complicated — and it can be even more rewarding — when we think of three items at once, or four.
Next time we'll examine some specific techniques for making good guesses. Next in this series Top Next Issue
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