Make Your DECISIONS ABOUT THE FUTURE Not the Past to Overcome Your Limitations w/ Regina Joseph

Dec 21, 2021
 
 

Welcome to episode 27 of the Mindful & Driven podcast! It’s all about how to not lose sight of what really matters whilst chasing your dreams.

Episode 27’s guest is Regina Joseph. My introduction is not going to do justice to everything that she’s achieved. She’s one of the world’s only superforecasters which means that she’s statistically proven to be better at making predictions to almost everybody on the planet. There are only about 150 people in this bracket who’ve consistently and reliably made accurate forecasts.

On top of this, she’s led many many organizations, as well as subdivisions of large organizations too. As an example, she created Blender in 1994 which is the first-ever digital publication. She’s now the founder of Sibylink and Pytho. During her career, she’s worked for NATO, Microsoft, and Liberty Global.

I hope you enjoy listening to our conversation! I’d love it if you could subscribe, leave me a review and follow me on social channels. 

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • How to make better decisions.
  • How to make better predictions.
  • Why it’s important to prioritize the future when making a decision.
  • How to make future-oriented decisions.
  • How to improve your decision-making.
  • How to improve your predictions.
  • How to think more accurately.
  • How to make accurate judgments.
  • How to make your reasoning more accurate.
  • Why you shouldn’t listen to your gut all the time. How to make rational decisions.
  • What’s important about decision-making.
  • Learn how to make better decisions.
  • Decision-making is best made through a clear process.

Keynotes:

  • Introduction (0:00)
  • A superforecaster’s restless mind (1:47)
  • Learn to make better decisions (8:39)
  • Being different (13:03)
  • The struggles of the working world and burnout (19:37)
  • That time when nobody believed (22:53)
  • Being conscious of your decision-making (28:03)

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Intro Music:
“Himalayas” by Mona Wonderlick — bit.ly/youtube-monawonderlick
Creative Commons — Attribution 3.0 Unported — CC BY 3.0
Free download: bit.ly/himalayas-download

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Transcript

 

[00:00:00] Regina: But if you can’t go that far, at the very least just change the frame of reference for how you think about the nature of a decision. If you think about it as a proactive futures oriented act, I think that that can potentially help in or reorienting how you achieve that act of future definition. 

[00:00:28] Amar: Welcome to the Mindful and Driven Podcast, where we help you to not lose sight of what’s really important whilst chasing your dreams.Today’s guest is Regina Joseph and this introduction will not do justice to everything she’s achieved. She’s one of the world’s only superforecasters, which means that she’s statistically proven to be better at making decisions than almost everybody on the planet. There’s only about 150 in this bracket who’ve consistently and reliably made accurate forecasts. On top of this, she’s led many organizations, as well as led subdivisions of large organizations too. As an example, she created Blender in 1994, which is the first ever digital publication. She’s now the founder of Sibylink and Pytho. And during the career she’s worked for NATO, Microsoft, and Liberty Global. I hope you enjoy today’s conversation. 

Welcome Regina. It’s great to have it on the podcast. I think you’ve been the hardest introduction to do of any of my guests so far, because your range of talents is so wide, it was trying to struggle about what to actually put into that little introduction and every time I talked to you, I seem to discover something new every five minutes or so. So just before we started recording, I found out that you used to be a competitive fencer as well. So it’s just incredible how many different things you’ve managed to do and people often call themselves polymaths, but I think you actually deserve the term more than most. 

[00:01:48] Regina: Thank you. Yeah. I have to say you are not the first person to say that to me. That is a very common refrain I hear when I meet people, when people get to know me, it is It’s both a blessing and a curse. The blessing of course, being that. What can I say? I have a restless mind and have had one since I was a kid and I was always the outlier, testing schoolwork or athletics. I was a very plugged in kid. We live in a society where people need easy categorization in order to be able to understand what’s in front of them. And I defy that kind of categorization, which in some ways is good at, allows me to fly under the radar sometimes, which can be a really important thing. But in a lot of ways  really a challenge. Because yeah, because people do want to pigeon hole you, people do want easy categorization and people people are literally marinating in their own biases. If you present something which confounds somebody’s biased interpretation of what they expect, that doesn’t always lead to a positive reception. In many cases it can actually create a backlash, so there are certainly positives and negatives in having a kind of polymath mind. 

[00:03:15] Amar: One of the things, aspects of it as well is that you’re accredited as a superforecaster. And I know a lot of the people listening might not necessarily know what that is, so could you explain that for us and how that works? 

[00:03:26] Regina: So the term superforecast came out of a research program that was funded by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in the United States. They have a research and development division known as The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity. What that agency is responsible for is conducting high risk, high payoff, R and D experiments, multi-year longitudinal research experiments. And one of the things that they wanted to test was whether or not people could be tracked as having very accurate predictions about future geopolitical and economic events and the experiment came out of research that had been done by quite a few people, but in particular, the work of Dr. Philip Tetlock, who is at the university of Pennsylvania, he wrote a book called expert political judgment. And that book was the culmination of decades of research that he had been doing in the nature of expertise. People who are experts. Or pundits people make predictions all the time. What people don’t realize is that human beings are prediction machines. Our brains are evolved to anticipate what’s next so that we can avoid danger. We just don’t think of our decisions that way, but what, what Phil Tetlock did was he looked at the forecast that were made by a variety of different pundits specialists, experts and then he technically evaluated them for their accuracy, which is one thing that every year at the end of the year, you open up a newspaper and it’ll tell you a forecast of what are going to be the hot shows next year, the hot books, the hot theater, the hot plays, but nobody ever really goes back to analyze whether or not, did they get those forecasts right? So that’s what Phil did was basically, he tried to evaluate, well, how good is expert political judgment? It turns out not that good.  In fact the phrase that came out of that book was, you know the general skill level was about roughly that of a dart throwing chimpanzee. On the basis of that book, IARPA decided, you know, this would be a really useful thing to test because we have, you know, we have 17 intelligence agencies, we have a lot of highly paid experts here, but how good are they? And, and so, which I think was an extremely courageous thing to do, because you’re basically saying, you know, we’re going to take as a control, intelligence analysts with access to classified intelligence and test them against a random group of volunteer test subjects to see who is more accurate in their predictions and the thing that really blew people away in year one, they expected that, it was a four year program. It lasted from 2011 to 2015. And so the term superforecaster, or superforecasting didn’t exist before that program. But what did, what did become clear, was the expectation was that the group of test subjects wouldn’t even come close to that of the control group until at least a few years into the program, but it didn’t turn out that way. In the first year, it was very clear that there was a subset of those test subjects that were incredibly accurate and beat the control by a lot. So and by a lot you’re talking 70%. You know, that that’s a considerable amount. So that that was a surprise in the first year. So in year two, the idea was, okay, let’s keep testing that. Or is there just going to be a regression to the mean, is there just going to be, you know, it was a lucky coincidence or a fluke in the first year. It turns out was no coincide. So throughout the four years of the experiment you know the research team was able to identify a group of 150 of us. And this is out of tens of thousands of test subjects. So for four years, so a group of 150 of us were dubbed superforecasters because we were consistently, accurate beating the control by, by a significant degree of statistical accuracy. So, so that is what that experiment gave rise to Phil writing a book about the, the research program. And that book was called Superforecasting the art and science of prediction. So, so the, the construct of the superforecaster came directly out of that research program. So, but we’re still a very, it’s not a common, it’s not a common designation in the general population. 

[00:08:01] Amar:  From that,so it means that you’re right more often than most other people are, right? So what I’d love to know is what’s some common advice that you see that you disagree with? 

[00:08:12] Regina: I think the most common is go with your gut. You know, I mean, I think that that is a, even to this day, you know, there are many different environments where people, and I think, especially what I’ve seen as a pattern over the last five years, I think that there’s been a rise, and I do think that technical platforms, you know, have allowed this to proliferate. I think, the gender ization of technology and tech and digital media. I think that that has given rise to a certain series of tropes where people are told to you know, they’re given various maxims, like live your best life, go with your gut, you know? and I think that that’s all surface feel-good stuff. But the truth is that if you really want to improve your life, learn how to make better decisions and learning how to make better decisions, involves learning a process, having a process. And so that often is, I think that often It is a big contrast to the kinds of messaging that I think a lot of people see, I think, especially women, I think that whole girl boss trope in some ways I can understand it’s empowering futures and I accept that and I, and I see that. But I think in other ways it kind of is not so great. I think it, there’s a certain amount of infantilization. I think that’s involved in that. And I think also what it does is it allows this sort of pseudo-scientific you know, feel good as permeates What should be better decision-making pathways for people who really, you know, these are aspirational ideas. and so I think that aspirational ideas are all about making people think that they can achieve them. Right? But the truth is that you don’t achieve anything unless you put a bit of hard graft into it. Really. 

[00:10:07] Amar: It’s interesting what you say there about, I guess it’s, I see it a lot online where people were saying, follow your passions, go with your gut and it’s like you said, where, how do you actually do that? It’s how do you actually achieve your goals? Because just wishing it into fruition isn’t what’s going to be doing it. It might help you get the motivation to do the work that will help you get there and that sort of can be useful but there is a danger that some people believe that if I want something enough, that’s going to make it happen. Whereas you’ve got to use that motivation into a system, into a process, and that will make the change. 

[00:10:46] Regina: Yeah. I mean, I think, why did a book like the self-esteem prophecy becomes such a huge bestseller? This idea of visualize it and it will come. It’s a nice idea, to paraphrase Hemingway, it would be nice to think so, right? I mean, it’s a nice idea in concept, but the reality is that having a very specific plan will always be better than just, I’m going to just think about it and I’m going to have this idea in my head and it’s going to happen. Yeah. It doesn’t happen that way. Not really. I mean, if it does, then it’s a coincidence, but it’s not because you actually visualize something in your head and all of a sudden, poof, it becomes real. 

[00:11:33] Amar: Hi everyone. I hope you’re enjoying the episode so far. I want to take a quick break to ask you to check in with yourself. There’s many people struggling with balance and it’s nothing to be ashamed about. It’s tips that my guests might share can hopefully help you along the way, but if you already feel overwhelmed or burnt out, it’s probably best that you ask somebody for help too. For some, this might be a friend or family member, while others might feel like they have nobody they can talk to. If you’re one of these people, check out the link in the show notes, it’s for United for Global Mental Health. They’ve got health plans all across the world, with people willing to listen on the other side. It’s important to let somebody know how you’re feeling. Now, back to the show. 

Diving back into your own history, tell me about a time when you struggled with your own balance. So I know obviously you’ve had such a, you said, even from childhood you were very good at lots of different things, but I can imagine that was also quite overwhelming. Can you tell us a bit about that? 

[00:12:25] Regina: The funny thing is that as a child, I didn’t find it overwhelming at all. As a child I’d, in some ways, yeah, I knew I was different, but I also was surrounded by a lot of really smart kids so I went to a math and science high school in New York, a quite a well-known one called Stuyvesant and Stuyvesant was a school where you actually had to take a test to get in and so the people that I went to school with were all super intelligent kids and kids who were strivers. , a big part of the Stuyvesant story is that it’s loaded with immigrants and my story being part of that too. My parents were both immigrants to New York city, so I think that that combination of New York grits, I mean, I started high school in the late seventies in 1979, when the city was yeah, at it’s grittiest so I think that combination of grit and being a city kid, and being surrounded in a place where the intellectual ferment was pretty high, didn’t make me feel like I was such a weirdo. I think we were all weirdos in our own way. It’s once I got into the circulatory stream of the real world that it became clear to me that there were going to be challenges. Once you get out into the working world, the first question you’re asked is what do you do? So if you have more than one, if you have more than one interest, or if you have more than one capability that really can work against you. I’ll give you an example. I was brought into one of my first jobs was working at what was called FYI. FYI was was one of the first magazines in the Time Inc. stable of publications. So you have Time Magazine, Life Magazine, People Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, et cetera, but Henry Luce, creator of Time and Time Magazine and The Company, Time Inc. He also knew that for the company to be a news organization, that it had to have its own news organ, keeping the people in the company, straight and reporting on what was going on inside the news, the news gatherers. So that magazine is called FYI and the tradition behind that magazine was is that it would bring in three people to come in as baby talent. There’s a pool for talent in the larger company. You’d spend one year there and then you’d get kick up kicked upstairs to one of the other magazines or you’re out of the company. So when I got the gig to start at FYI, I think it was like the second day that I got there and the magazine recession hits. Wall street tanked. It was known as it was, it was called The Black Cat Bounce Tuesday. And so the company went on an immediate hire increase. We had just had the art director of the magazine leave. So we couldn’t hire a, an art director. And I said well, I know how to do digital publishing and we’re doing everything analog by hand. So I can do both the analog, but also the digital, in addition to my reporting. And so I did that and of course at the time, you know, my editor was saying, you can’t do that. And I said, yeah, but I can, and you’ll save a lot of money and you know, it we’ll, we’ll close the magazine faster. And that way none of us will be sleeping in our offices at 4:00 AM. Well, let me amend that I was sleeping in my office till 4:00 AM trying to close the magazine, but it did it it’s. But you know, I noticed that when my editor would explain to people that I was also doing the art direction duties in addition to my reporting, people saw me more as an art director than as an editor or reporter and I think that that was held a little bit lower in estimate. At a place like Time Inc, where everything is about the reporting and editing and we’re talking, this is the late eighties, the late eighties, early nineties, so it was a very different world back then, in terms of what people thought about media. So at that time, I thought in some ways I know this was good for me because I can see how to develop digital media at a time when nobody was thinking about that. So in a lot of ways, that was great for me, but in some ways, career wise, I think that in the eyes of certain senior editors, I think that they thought, well, because I’m also doing art direction. I’m not as valuable, as somebody who’s just a pure reporter and so I definitely picked up on that and that’s what happened, again, bias always plays a role in how you’re perceived no matter who you are, no matter, you could be any color, any gender, you’re still going to be affected by bias in one fit, in one way or another. So I found that to be a big challenge, you know, the, my childhood experience of it wasn’t so much, you know, I just felt like I was just one, one of another group of, you know, kids in New York at a particular point in time. but it became fairly clear, you know, early in my career that, that level of polymathy or that level of dexterity or flexibility, isn’t always, isn’t always rewarded. 

[00:18:10] Amar: So that was during your corporate career, right at the beginning, right? Working for the magazine? And I know that you then left the corporate world for a while to focus on your health when you said that you burnt out. Can you tell us more about that too? 

[00:18:23] Regina: Yeah, I was working for Sony corporation. I was I was vice-president at Sony. I had three offices basically. I had an office in Amsterdam. I had an office in London and also I had an office in New York. My principal base was in Amsterdam and London, which often entailed daily flights back and forth between Amsterdam and London. That was cut short with September 11th. When September 11th hits and airports were closed, that made things more difficult, so I wound up being based mostly in London at that point, but the constant travel, the stress, the fighting, the infighting, you know, over senior executives, over a piece of the pie that they knew was going to get smaller and smaller and smaller for them. You know, it was a pretty, it was a pretty gruesome environments. And so it just burnt me out. I’d been doing it for so many years and I thought, I don’t think I can do this anymore. And so when you, when you are working for a place like Sony, you work on multiple year contracts. Contract was coming up for renewal and my lawyer contacted me. He said, okay, you know we’re,  the contract is coming up. What would you, what do we want to ask for in the renewal? And I said, no, we’re not going to, we’re not going to ask for a renewal. I, you know, I’m kind of done with the corporate world. I don’t think I can do this anymore. I’ve worked for corporations ranging from Sony, Liberty Global, Hearst Corporation, Time Inc. I’ve had my own companies. I think I need to lie fallow for a while and kind of regroup and think about what I want to do. It was a big change because one of the things that I did in order, just to keep the money flowing was, you know, I happened you know, because as an athlete, I had to do Pilates a lot, you know, to stay strong, and so I just wound up getting an instructor, an instructor’s license. I learned how to teach it. You know, I was trained by the proteges of Joseph Pilates, so I was lucky enough to be in their proximity. So yeah, I was taught by them and got a license as a Pilates instructor. And so I thought, yeah, there’ll be a good way to engage the physical side of my world, while I’m also working on, you know, how I want the intellectual side of my world to play out. So that was, so I did that for about five years. The book came out in 2007. But it was definitely a different type of book than what I had envisioned, not through my own choices necessarily either. So but that’s the book, that’s the book publishing world for you. 

[00:21:05] Amar: Looking back, and you’ve worked on so many different things. Do you know what your favorite period of your life was about? Which was it when you were doing this section here where you are working in your book and doing Pilates? Is that a time you look back on fondly or is there another period which really stands out to you? 

[00:21:23] Regina:  I look on that fondly? You know,I mean, I look upon all of those periods of my life with a mixture of fondness and also mixture of I could have done that better. Just because that’s my nature. But I think  that of the times where I felt I think the most energized or engaged, I think it was like, I mean, I think you could say that certainly now the last 10 years, I’ve really been feeling like the work that I’ve been doing has a lot of relevance and value, but I also think the time in which I was on my own, putting together Blender, which became the first digital magazine that was a time where nobody believed in this. Nobody. Nobody could see digital media coming and there was a period of about three years in which I was putting together the prototype. I was putting together the boards. I was meeting people as a magazine, as magazine columnist, as a writer and a reporter I had contacts at the highest levels of magazine companies, so I would schedule meetings with them. There was no such thing as VCs, venture capital for media back then and certainly not on the east coast. Getting money was virtually impossible. I needed to either go through an established publishing company or find some kind of crazy angel investor who thought, ‘yeah! magazines that you read on a computer. Yeah. That sounds like a great idea.’, so I think that in some ways the constant negativity and push back, I think kind of energized me in some ways. It sort of brought out the pugilistic side of me and I do have a, I mean, I was a fencer, so what can I say? So yeah, so it brought the fighter in me and you know, for all of those people, and I, you know, I have a very strong recollection of a meeting that I took it. Yeah, so Fox, 20th Century Fox, Rupert Murdoch’s company they had a magazine division and so I had a meeting with them and the person who was head of that meeting at the time, at the end of the meeting, you know, I’d done a presentation explaining, you know, this is what digital advertising would look like, this is what a digital publication would look like, this is how it works, these are the mechanics behind it, this is the infrastructure you need to put together, and, you know, he came up to me, I think I was 26, 25 or 26. And he came up to me and he patted me on the head, like a little poodle, and he said, you know, you’re such a cute little girl, you know, what are you doing with, dealing with computers? I mean, you don’t want to do that. Nobody’s going to read a magazine on a computer ever. And so, and he said it to me in such a contemptuous way, you know? And that sort of, you know, it was  that classic, I think every woman recognizes it, you know, that, that patronizing, condescending, like, hey little girl, you know, and I just thought in 10 years, and I actually said that to the room, I said in 10 years you’re all going to be out of a job. None of you will have this job, in 10 years. And they all laughed. Every single one of them laughed at me. I was like, I could hear the laughter as I was walking out of the conference room. And I just remember thinking, yeah, well, yeah, screw them, you know, in the end, yes, I was right, but I think, yeah, I think when you have to confront that adversity all the time, you know, because there really weren’t any takers in the beginning. Yeah, I think that that was probably, and also too, because I knew it could work because I knew that the technology was there to make it possible. It just was too new for most people to really get a grip on it. 

[00:25:17] Amar: And obviously you were proved right in the end. So obviously even before the superforecaster program, sharing that your predictions even back then were coming to fruition. 

[00:25:26] Regina: Until you can prove it. I think that’s, you know, I think you need to be able to back back it up. 

[00:25:33] Amar: One thing I’d like to know for the listeners back at home is, what’s one mindset shift you think they could make to make a positive difference their lives? 

[00:25:40] Regina: I would say that the one mind shift. That they could make to really change their lives is to think about their decision-making as a bet on a future outcome. If they think about their, every decision as something where they’re really trying to anticipate something that has not yet happened, it’s just changing the frame of reference, you know, for thinking about their decisions. Most people are on autopilot when they’re making decisions by being a, perhaps a bit more conscious about the nature of decision-making, you know, that it’s a process that has a bunch of different informational feeds. I think that that would be a good first step in being able to improve the quality of the decisions you make. And so. If there’s a little less of the inclination, I mean part of it is laziness, right? I mean, some people are like, Ugh, I can’t be bothered, you know, to really think through a game out, you know, all the scenarios. I get that, you know that’s effortful thinking and people don’t like to do it. But if you can’t go that far at the very least just change the, change the frame of reference for how you think about the nature of a decision. You know, if you think about it as a proactive futures oriented act, I think that that can, can potentially help in or reorienting how you achieve that act of future definition. 

[00:27:12] Amar: Yeah. One example for me that comes to mind is in my karate days, we’ve tournaments. People used to say, oh, you’re a black belt, so you can beat everybody else. It doesn’t work like that. That’s not how it works. By having different skills in different experiences, it might increase the chances that in a fight that I would win, that would be from my base, but it’s never a hundred percent, like you said. And even if all of the things on paper meant that I should win, there’s always that random factor, which you can’t account for. And it’s why, for example, in karate where say it’s better to not get in a fight in the first place, because even if you’ve got a better chance, there’s never a 0% chance that you’re not going to get hurt. And I think about that in everything, right? It’s you take calculated decisions, take calculated bets, but it’s always a bet. There’s always a chance you wrong, And do you need to accept that sometimes and be okay with that. 

[00:28:12] Regina: That’s absolutely right. And I think that that is one of the toughest parts of the process, the learning process. You know, there’s always the possibility that something’s going to occur, that you didn’t account for. And you know, people, you know, people don’t like uncertainty, right? People enjoy certainty. 

[00:28:31] Amar: Where can people looking today, hear more from you? 

00:28:36] Regina: Thank you so much tomorrow. So great talking with you as well. I really enjoy chatting with you, and this has been a really fun, wide ranging conversation. So people can reach me in a couple of different ways. My website is www.superrj.com. All one word.com. So yes,  www.superrj.com. They can also reach me on Twitter. I’m Superforecast R letter R after the word. Superforecastr, all one word. And I can also be reached at either of my company websites, www.sibylink S I B Y L I N k.com. That’s my European website. And there’s also my US website, which is www.pytho P Y T H O like Python without the N at the end dot IO. 

[00:29:24] Amar: Perfect. The thing that I like to end on is, what’s one small thing that’s brought you joy recently? 

00:29:29] Regina: I have been eyeballing a kayak for several months now, I just got to test it last week. It was amazing paddling around in this beautiful canal right by my house, testing out this kayak. That was a pretty joyful experience. So, yeah, so that was great. That was definitely my most recent little moment of unbridled joy. 

[00:29:50] Amar: If you’re listening on Apple Podcasts, I’d love it If you could leave me a five star review, it really helps get the message out further. Wherever you’re listening, it would be awesome If you could subscribe and share in your social media channels. If you want to see more of my work and advice, you can find all of the links in the show notes. 

Thank you again for listening and I hope you have a lovely day.

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