About Managers & Politicians And Their Forecast Obsession

Politicians and managers are the same in many ways. They have to manage several workstreams, handle expectations, bear responsibility, and take the rap when things go overboard. And yes, it is easy to criticize, find shortcomings, and point at others as a neutral observer. But my intention here is not to criticize. I want to highlight that managers and politicians also share an almost neurotic forecast obsession. 

The corona pandemic as an experimental laboratory for crisis management

The Corona pandemic has changed the daily lives of people around the world. And even if a pandemic in a globalized world based on the exchange of people, products, and services should not really come as a surprise, all nations were overwhelmed by the virus initially.

In this respect, the world became an experimental laboratory. We could observe how different nations applied different strategies. And we still do not know to what extent the individual strategies were really effective or not.

This trial and error approach is ultimately an expression of a scientific method. Flawed strategies are not failures. Rather, they are necessary interim steps toward success. Therefore, they must be seen as progress, not as a step backward. Every falsified strategy is a milestone on the path of finding the truth. We sort out things that don’t work to focus on the methods that do.

We cannot avoid mistakes and setbacks

In the process described above, mistakes are not only welcome but unavoidable. Who wants to claim to know the right solution ad hoc for a multi-dimensional and complex problem? Accordingly, scorn and gloating at failed attempts are only a sign of infamy (or limited brain capacities).

That’s why I am not interested in criticizing “mistakes” or “setbacks”, even if they are disappointing. Instead, we should encourage the people behind the “wrong” decisions to take the next step.

Making the same mistake twice is unpleasant

Nevertheless, making the same mistake twice out of ignorance is unpleasant. In the trial and error process, falsifications should be sorted out without mercy. This has nothing to do with suppressing opinions. It is about how much space we want to give for repeating proven false facts.

When exactly facts are really wrong is often difficult, but the basic principle is not.

Strategies that have been proven to be unsuccessful should be discontinued. People who tell proven bullshit on TV are to be ignored as long as they do not acknowledge that they are wrong. Anything else would slow down progress and tie up capacities unnecessarily.

Changing the mind is good

I don’t mind changing my mind. Many people want to know as much as possible but resist when others falsify them.

Accepting a falsification also means admitting one was wrong.  Many people see this as a defeat, a weakness, and resist it. But if I view a falsification as a success, it is much easier for me to admit that I was wrong.

So even if we look at it emotionally, it has greatness to admit to being wrong. One has grown. Become wiser. In a way, it is also a sign of humility to accept one’s own fallibility.

I really like the following thought: If you free yourself from the shame associated with changing your opinion, you get rid of the pain of having to be right all the time.

In short: Those who are proven to be falsified should be happy about it and not look for ways to maintain their opinion.

About people who take responsibility…

In every laboratory, there must be someone who takes the lead and thus also the responsibility. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about a politician who has to ensure the supply of respirators to the population or a manager maneuvering the business through the lockdown.

As I said before, I have great respect for these people. Many of them have skin in the game. Plus: it’s completely different to be on the pitch than yelling at the players from a comfortable VIP seat.

Managers who lead a team or an entire business unit are responsible for their team. If their teams fail, they can look for a new job. A politician who proves to be a poor crisis manager will have to live with this stigma for the rest of his political life.

So it is definitely a hardboard that these people have to drill. And you would think that these people would do everything they could to avoid making their lives unnecessarily difficult. Well, if it weren’t for the almost neurotic obsession to lean out of the window and predict things foolishly.

… and the forecast obsession of politicians and managers…

Just a few weeks ago, I talked about the corporate world’s various return-to-office policies. Here I had focused mainly on the hypocrisy with all the leadership principles ending at the home office question.

But this aspect is also interesting from another perspective. Because with these policies, all the managers have also made bold predictions. Facing a vaccination rate (fully-vaccinated) of “only” 50 percent and a highly contagious mutant, i.e., an unclear situation, they assumed that everything would now be fine again. And they articulated this bold forecast quite confidently with their “but now back to normal mode, please.”

Nevertheless, only a few weeks later, companies had to postpone their return-to-office plan. It must be hard for all these politicians, managers, and Twitter experts to admit that it is better not to make any predictions or promises regarding the coronavirus. But instead of just giving it a try, they preferred to revise themselves every few weeks.

Politicians Forecast politicians and their forecast obsession
Politicians and their forecast obsession

… which is unnecessary

It is quite fragile to make a “one-way-door decision” in an unknown situation. And deciding “that everyone needs to get back to the office now because all is well” is a one-way-door decision as it claims consequences without caveat.

Of course, managers can take back this decision. But at the same time, they must admit to having made an incorrect prediction.  Managers and politicians lose trust with such maneuvers. They make themselves vulnerable, and people doubt their judgment quality.

But wait, isn’t that a contradiction to the above? Didn’t we say that being wrong is not bad? Yes, this is exactly what I said.

So let’s be clear about this. Reversing the decision is not the problem in this case. The problem is rather that managers have presumed to make a forecast at all in such a situation. It’s all about self-overestimation, and I simply don’t understand why they so openly express their forecast into the blue.

Here is another example:

When Germany experienced exponentially rising corona infection figures in November 2020, the government decided on a “lockdown light“. To convince the pandemic-weary public, it combined the lockdown with the promise of celebrating Christmas with the family.

When the “lockdown light” strategy failed, the government decided on even stricter restrictions in mid-December. Again, the problem was not to try the lockdown light approach as a strategy.

The big mistake and the cause of a great loss of trust was the bold promise into the blue in a situation where politicians better not make any forecasts.

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