HIGH-STAKES PREDICTIONS

 

▪ CHAPTER SIX ▪
HIGH-STAKES PREDICTIONS

“Once the principle of movement has been supplied, one
thing follows on after another without interruption.”
Aristotle

I recall the case of a man who drove to a hotel near his home and requested a room on the highest floor. Though he had no luggage, he was escorted up to the eighteenth floor by a bellman. As a tip, he handed over all the money in his pocket (sixty-one dollars). He then asked if there would be paper and a pen in the room. Five minutes later, he jumped out the window, committing suicide.

Was this suicide foreseeable by the reception person who checked him in, or by the bellman? Both had an opportunity to observe the guest’s conduct and demeanor, but they were predicting entirely different outcomes. They were answering such questions as: Can he pay for his room? Is he the authorized user of his credit card? How can I get another tip like that? The pre-incident indicators for those predictions do not include the ones relevant to suicide, such as: Why does he have no luggage? Why does a person who lives nearby check in to a hotel? Why did he seek a room on a high floor? Why did he want a pen and paper? Why did he give away all the money he had?

 

People do all these things for differing reasons, of course. The man might have lost his luggage. He might be staying in a hotel even though he lives nearby because his home is being fumigated (but then, wouldn’t he have luggage?). He might he staying in a hotel because he just had an argument with his wife (and ran out too quickly to gather any belongings). He might have requested a room on a high floor for the view, and he might have asked about pen and paper to write a note to someone (his wife?). He might have given all his money as a tip because he’s generous. A question that could give meaning to his other behavior is: Does he appear depressed? But that’s not an issue on the minds of hotel staff.

While I’m sure some lawyer could make a case for the hotel’s liability, the real point is that to consciously predict something, one must know what outcome is being predicted, or see enough pre-incident indicators to bring that possible outcome into consciousness. Here, some Zen wisdom applies: Knowing the question is the first step toward knowing the answer.

The Language of Prediction

If you were surrounded by a pack of unfamiliar dogs that caused you fear, you could have no better companion than Jim Canino. He’s an expert in canine behavior who has worked with hundreds of dogs that people considered vicious or unpredictable. Though you and Jim could observe the same actions by a dog, he’d be more likely to recognize the significance of those actions, and more likely to accurately predict the dog’s behavior. That’s because he knows the dog’s predictive language. For example, you may believe that a dog that is barking at you is likely to bite you, but Jim knows that barking is simply a call to other dogs. Growling is the signal to respect. In the predictive language of dogs, the growl means, “Nobody’s coming and I have to handle this on my own.”

When someone speaks to you in a language you don’t understand, though you hear the sounds clearly, they carry limited meaning. For instance, look at the following paragraph:

Flememing. r o b e r t do. Bward, CCR, L-john john john john john john john john john john, GGS, stosharne, :powell. Kckkm, cokevstner, michL fir fir fir fir fir, hawstevkings, bjacksrowne, steV1der, dgeLnrs.

 

This may look like gibberish, but your intuition has probably told you it is not. That paragraph contains the names of fifteen famous people, but in a slightly different language than the rest of this book.

Flememing is Ian Flemming (E in Flemming). R o b e r t do is Robert Deniro (Robert D-near-O). Bward is Warren Beatty (War in B-D). CCR is Caesar (cc’s-R). L-john john john john john john john john john john is Elton John (L—ten john). GGS is Jesus (gg’s-S).

 

You now know enough of that language to get the remaining nine names. These word puzzles show that meaning is often in front of us to be harvested. Sometimes we need only believe it is there.

These puzzles show something else too, something about the differences between intuition and conscious prediction. If the solution to one of these puzzles does not come right away, it is then a matter of letting the answer surface in you, because stare though you may, there is no additional information forthcoming from the puzzle itself. If you solve one, the answer was available in you somewhere. Many people resist this idea, believing that they solve the puzzles by moving the letters around and trying them in different order, as if they were anagrams. But they are not anagrams and they have no consistent rules, and people often get them immediately without having the time to figure them out.

 

I show a series of these intuitive puzzles when I give speeches and ask audience members to call out the answers as they come to them. Most of the correct answers—sometimes nearly all of them—come from women. It’s also so that most of the incorrect answers come from women. That’s because women are willing to call out what comes to them—they are willing to guess. The men, conversely, won’t risk being wrong in front of a roomful of people, so they won’t call out an answer until they are sure it’s correct. The result is that while each man is plodding through his personal logic test for each puzzle, the women have called out all the answers. Woman are more comfortable relying on intuition because they do it all the time.

Intuition is just listening; prediction is more like trying to solve the puzzles with logic. You may have greater confidence in conscious predictions because you can show yourself the methodology you used, but that doesn’t necessarily increase their accuracy. Even though this is a chapter about improving conscious predictions, don’t believe for a moment that when it comes to human behavior the conscious predictions are any better than the unconscious ones.

▪ ▪ ▪

We predict the behavior of other human beings based on our ability to read certain signals that we recognize. In Desmond Morris’s Bodytalk, he describes the meaning of gestures and body movements and notes in which parts of the world various meanings apply. Amazingly, sixty-six of the signals are listed as being valid worldwide, universal to all human beings in every culture on earth. The majority of them are presented unconsciously. Everywhere in the world, the chin jutted forward is a sign of aggression, the head slightly retracted is a sign of fear, the nostrils flared while taking a sharp breath is a sign of anger. If a person anywhere on the planet holds his arms forward with the palms facing down while making small downward movements, he means “Calm down.” In every culture, stroking the chin means “I am thinking.”

Just as these movements are unconscious, so is our reading of them usually unconscious. If I asked you to list just fifteen of the sixty-six worldwide gestures or physical movements, you’d find it difficult, but you absolutely know them all and respond to each intuitively. Earlier I mentioned the predictive language of dogs, which is all non-verbal. Desmond Morris has identified one of the non-verbal parts of human language, but we have many others. Often, knowing the language of a given prediction is more important than understanding exactly what a person says. The key is understanding the meaning and the perspective beneath and behind the words people choose. When predicting violence, some of the languages include:

The language of rejection
The language of entitlement
The language of grandiosity
The language of attention seeking
The language of revenge
The language of attachment
The language of identity seeking

 

Attention seeking, grandiosity, entitlement, and rejection are often linked. Think of someone you know who is always in need of attention, who cannot bear to be alone or to be unheard. Few people like being ignored, of course, but to this person it will have a far greater meaning. Imagine Al Sharpton or Rush Limbaugh unable to garner attention by the methods they do today. Believing they deserve it (entitlement and grandiosity), knowing they need it (fear of rejection), and committed to being seen and listened to (attention-seeking), they might strongly resist a loss of attention. If the need in them is great enough (and you be the judge), they might do some pretty extreme things to draw interest.

 

Think of a person you know whose self-evaluation is lofty or grandiose, perhaps even with good reason. When he volunteers for something and later learns that he was not chosen or wasn’t even seriously considered, the news will have a different meaning to him than it would to a modest, humble person. Such a person might also feel humiliated more quickly than a modest person.

In each prediction about violence, we must ask what the context, stimuli, and developments might mean to the person involved, not just what they mean to us. We must ask if the actor will perceive violence as moving him toward some desired outcome or away from it. The conscious or unconscious decision to use violence, or to do most anything, involves many mental and emotional processes, but they usually boil down to how a person perceives four fairly simple issues: justification, alternatives, consequences, and ability. My office abbreviates these elements as JACA, and an evaluation of them helps predict violence.

Perceived Justification (J)

Does the person feel justified in using violence? Perceived justification can be as simple as being sufficiently provoked (“Hey, you stepped on my foot!”) or as convoluted as looking for an excuse to argue, as with the spouse that starts a disagreement in order to justify an angry response. The process of developing and manufacturing justification can be observed. A person who is seeking to feel justification for some action might move from “What you’ve done angers me” to “What you’ve done is wrong.” Popular justifications include the moral high ground of righteous indignation and the more simple equation known by its biblical name: an eye for an eye.

 

Anger is a very seductive emotion because it is profoundly energizing and exhilarating. Sometimes people feel their anger is justified by past unfairnesses, and with the slightest excuse, they bring forth resentments unrelated to the present situation. You could say such a person has pre-justified hostility, more commonly known as having a chip on his shoulder.

The degree of provocation is, of course, in the eye of the provoked. John Monahan notes that “how a person appraises an event may have a great influence on whether he or she ultimately responds to it in a violent manner.” What he calls “perceived intentionality” (e.g., “You didn’t just bump into me, you meant to hit me”) is perhaps the clearest example of a person looking for justification.

Perceived Alternatives (A)

Does the person perceive that he has available alternatives to violence that will move him toward the outcome he wants? Since violence, like any behavior, has a purpose, it’s valuable to know the goal of the actor. For example, if a person wants his job back, violence is not the most effective strategy, since it precludes the very outcome he seeks. Conversely, if he wants revenge, violence is a viable strategy, though usually not the only one. Alternatives to violence might be ridicule, smear campaigns, lawsuits, or inflicting some other nonphysical harm on the targeted person or organization. Knowing the desired outcome is the key. If a person’s desired outcome is to inflict physical injury, then there are few alternatives to violence. If the desired outcome is to punish someone, there might be many. It is when he perceives no alternatives that violence is most likely. David wouldn’t have fought Goliath if he perceived alternatives. Justification alone wouldn’t have been enough to compensate for his low ability to prevail over his adversary. More than anything, he fought because he had no choice. A person (or an animal) who feels there are no alternatives will fight even when violence isn’t justified, even when the consequences are perceived as unfavorable, and even when the ability to prevail is low.

Perceived Consequences (C)

How does the person view the consequences associated with using violence? Before resorting to force, people weigh the likely consequences, even if unconsciously or very quickly. Consequences might be intolerable, such as for a person whose identity and self-image would be too damaged if he used violence. Context can change that, as with the person who is normally passive but becomes violent in a crowd or mob. Violence can be made tolerable by the support or encouragement of others. It is when consequences are perceived as favorable, such as for an assassin who wants attention and has little to lose, that violence is likely.

Perceived Ability (A)

Does the person believe he can successfully deliver the blows or bullet or bomb? People who have successfully used violence in the past have a higher appraisal of their ability to prevail using violence again. People with weapons or other advantages perceive (often correctly) a high ability to use violence.

 

To see the JACA elements in practice on a large scale, look at world conflict. The Palestinians have the goal of reclaiming and protecting their land rights. Some also have the goal of avenging past wrongs and punishing the Israelis. In either case, those who bring violence to the issue feel justified in doing so. They perceive no alternatives that will move them toward their goals as effectively as violence. They view the consequences of violence as favorable (pressure on the Israelis, world attention to their plight, vengeance for past suffering, etc.). They perceive a high ability to deliver violence (by now with good reason).

To predict whether the Palestinians will continue to use violence, we must—at least for the purposes of evaluation—see the issues their way. The importance of seeing things from the perspective of the person whose behavior you are predicting cannot be overstated. A recent 60 Minutes show gave a good example of most people’s reluctance to do that. It profiled the mastermind terrorist known as the Engineer, a man who helped kamikaze martyrs strap explosives to their chests. His agents became walking bombs, carrying death into populated areas. Interviewer Steve Kroft asked one of the Engineer’s terrorist followers to describe the man who could do such terrible things. The answer: “He’s a very normal person, just like all of us.”

Kroft took exception: “You said that he is just like all of the rest of us. I, I, I would say that, that no one would consider you and him normal.”

The terrorist replied, “I believe your statement is incorrect. There are thousands and thousands in our country that believe what we believe—and not only our country, in the rest of the Arab world and even in your country.” The terrorist was right.

 

JACA elements can be observed in governments just as with individuals. When America is preparing to go to war, justification is first: evil empire; mad dictator; international outlaw; protect our interests; “cannot just stand by and watch,” etc. Alternatives to violence shrink as we move from negotiations to demands, warnings to boycotts, and finally blockades to attacks. The perceived consequences of going to war move from intolerable to tolerable as public opinion comes into alignment with government opinion. Our appraisal of our ability rises as ships and troops are moved into proximity of an enemy.

At the end of the day, the American bomber who kills a hundred people in Iraq decides to use violence the same way as the Palestinian bomber who kills a hundred people in Israel.

This idea may bother some readers, but as was discussed in chapter 3, effective predictions require that we not make value judgments. Instead, we must see the battle—at least for a moment—from the deck of the enemy warship, because each person has his own perspective, his own reality, no matter how much it may differ from ours. As historian James Burke explains: “All that can accurately be said about a man who thinks he is a poached egg is that he is in the minority.”

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The Elements of Prediction

There is a way to evaluate the likelihood of success of any prediction, a way to predict the prediction, so to speak. It can be done by measuring eleven elements. These elements, which I am offering here as a glimpse into some of the strategies used by my firm, apply to every type of prediction, not just those involving violence. I know how universal they are, for many corporate clients whom we have advised on high-stakes predictions have asked us to assist on other types of predictions, such as what opposing litigants might do.

We start by asking the following questions:

1. Measurability

How measurable is the outcome you seek to predict? Will it be clear if it happens or does not happen? For example, imagine the predictive question is: “Will a bomb explode in the auditorium during the pro-choice rally?” That outcome is measurable (i.e., it would be obvious if it happened).

 

If, however, the predictive question is: “Will we have a good time on an upcoming trip to Hawaii?” we might not have a shared definition of “good time.” My having a good time might not be obvious to you, and might not be easily discoverable. Thus, the prediction is less likely to succeed than those with outcomes that are easily measurable.

2. Vantage

Is the person making the prediction in a position to observe the pre-incident indicators and context? For example, to predict what will happen between two quarreling people, it is valuable to have a vantage point from which you can see and hear them.

3. Imminence

Are you predicting an outcome that might occur soon, as opposed to some remote time in the future? Ideally, one predicts outcomes that might happen while they are still significant. “Will someone attempt to harm Senator Smith next week? is an easier predictive question to answer successfully than “Will someone attempt to harm Senator Smith in thirty years?” Success is more likely for the first question because conditions next week will not be affected by as many intervening influences as conditions in thirty years will.

 

Our best predictive resources are applied when outcomes might occur while they are still meaningful to us. Though perhaps harsh to Senator Smith, it might not matter much to people today if he is harmed in thirty years.

There is a similar dynamic with more personal predictive questions, such as “Will smoking kill me?” Smokers can easily predict that it will likely kill them, but the outcome is so remote in time that it loses much of its significance.

4. Context

Is the context of the situation clear to the person making the prediction? Is it possible to evaluate the attendant conditions and circumstances, the relationship of parties and events to each other?

5. Pre-incident Indicators (PINs)

Are there detectable pre-incident indicators that will reliably occur before the outcome being predicted? This is the most valuable of the elements. If one were predicting whether a governor might be the object of an assassination attempt at a speech, pre-incident indicators could include the assassin’s jumping on stage with a gun—but that is too recent a PIN to be very useful (as it provides little time for intervention). The birth of the assassin is also a PIN, but it is too dated to be valuable. Even though both of these events are critical intersections on the map of this particular prediction, one hopes to be somewhere between the two, between the earliest possible detectable factor and those that occur an instant before the act. Useful PINs for assassination might include the assassin’s trying to learn the governor’s schedule, developing a plan, purchasing a weapon, keeping a diary, or telling people “something big is coming.”

Ideally, an outcome would be preceded by several reliable PINs, but they must also be detectable. Someone’s getting the idea to kill and making the decision to kill are both extraordinarily valuable PINs, but since these occur in the mind, they might not be detectable on their own. Later I’ll discuss the PINs for workplace violence, spousal killings, homicides by children, and public-figure attack. They are always there, though not always known to the people making the predictions.

6. Experience

Does the person making the prediction have experience with the specific topic involved? A lion tamer can predict whether or not a lion will attack more accurately than I can because he has experience. He can do an even better job if he has experience with both possible outcomes (lions that do not attack and lions that do).

7. Comparable Events

Can you study or consider outcomes that are comparable—though not necessarily identical—to the one being predicted? Ideally, one relies on events that are substantively comparable. Predicting whether a senator will be shot by a mentally ill member of the general public, one might study cases in which mayors were shot by deranged pursuers, as this is substantively the same situation and the relationship between the players is similar. One can learn about the PINs in the mayor cases and consider whether they apply to the present prediction. On the other hand, studying cases of senators shot by their spouses or senators who shot themselves would not likely improve the success of a prediction about a stranger’s shooting a senator.

8. Objectivity

Is the person making the prediction objective enough to believe that either outcome is possible? People who believe only one outcome is possible have already completed their prediction. With the simple decision to make a decision before the full range of predictive tests has been completed, they have hit the wall of their intuitive ability. Asked to predict whether a given employee will act violently, the person who believes that kind of thing never happens is not the right choice for the job. People only apply all their predictive resources when they believe either outcome is possible.

9. Investment

To what degree is the person making the prediction invested in the outcome? Simply put, how much does he or she care about avoiding or exploiting the outcome? Does he or she have reason to want the prediction to be correct? If I ask you right now to predict whether I will oversleep tomorrow, you won’t bring your best predictive resources to the question because you don’t care. If, however, you are relying on me to pick you up at the airport early tomorrow morning, your prediction will be far better.

10. Replicability

Is it practical to test the exact issue being predicted by trying it first elsewhere? Asked to predict if water in a pot will boil when heated, you need not heat thiswater to improve the prediction. You can test the issue, replicate it exactly, by heating other water first. It is a low-cost experiment for a low-stakes prediction. While replicability is the cornerstone of most scientific predictions, it is nearly useless in high-stakes predictions of human behavior. I cannot test whether an angry employee will shoot a supervisor by giving him a gun and watching him at work.

11. Knowledge

Does the person making the prediction have accurateknowledge about the topic? Unless it is relevant and accurate, knowledge can be the sinking ship the fool insists is sea-worthy, because knowledge often masquerades as wisdom. If a corporate executive has knowledge that most perpetrators of workplace violence are white males between thirty-five and fifty years-old, he might ignore someone’s bizarre behavior because the employee does not “fit the profile.”

(In my firm, we use a predictive instrument that assigns point values to each of these eleven elements. The scale and its ranges appears in appendix 6, along with some examples of popular predictions.)

▪ ▪ ▪

The most advanced concept of prediction has to do with deciding just when it is that a thing starts to happen. The prediction of earthquakes gives us an extreme example: There are, contrary to popular belief, reliable pre-incident indicators for earthquakes. The problem is that the PINs might be ten thousand years long, and for this reason earthquakes remain, in human terms, unpredictable. In geological terms, however, it is fair to say that the next earthquake in Los Angeles has already started. In geology, calling something a catastrophe means that the event occurs in a time period short enough to be meaningful to man. The earth’s moving is not the issue, because the ground you are on right now is moving. The suddenness is the issue.

 

In predicting violence, a pre-incident indicator that takes a long time begs the question of whether we need to wait until something becomes a catastrophe versus trying to detect it at a midway mark. Does an assassination attempt begin when the gun is fired at the victim, or when it is drawn, or when it is carried into the arena, or when it is loaded, or when it is purchased, or when assassination is first thought of? Prediction moves from a science to an art when you realize that pre-incident indicators are actually part of the incident.

When you apply this concept to human beings, you can see that behavior is like a chain. Too often, we look at just the individual links. When we ask why a man committed suicide, someone might say, “He was despondent over major financial losses,” as if this could possibly explain it. Many people are despondent over financial losses and don’t kill themselves. Though we want to believe that violence is a matter of cause and effect, it is actually a process, a chain in which the violent outcome is only one link. The process of suicide starts way before the act of suicide.

 

The same is true for homicide. Though we might try to explain a murder using simple cause-and-effect logic (e.g., “He learned his wife was having an affair so he killed her”), it doesn’t aid prediction to think this way. Like the earthquake, violence is one outcome of a process that started way before this man got married. If you were making a prediction of what a friend of yours might do if he lost his job, you wouldn’t say, “Oh, he’ll commit suicide” unless there were many other PINs of suicide present. You’d see the loss of his job as a single link, not the whole chain.

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By this point, you have read a lot about successful predictions, more perhaps than can easily be recalled. Still, there’s no need for a memory test because the information is already in your mind. I know that because it came from your mind in the first place. These elements of prediction are the same ones our ancestors relied on to survive. If they seem new to you, it’s because they have been largely ignored by modern Westerners. We perceive less need for them because we are at a point in our evolution where life is less about predicting risks and more about controlling them.

 

Endowed with great intellect with which to protect ourselves, we have developed extraordinary technologies for survival. Chief among them is modern medicine; though we are no less vulnerable to injury, we are far less likely to die from it. Technology has also provided the ability to call for help, so we rarely feel isolated in an emergency. We also have rapid transportation that can rush us to medical care, or rush it to us. Even with all this, we have more fear today than ever before, and most of it is fear of each other.

To be as free from it as possible, we need to recapture our inherent predictive skills. In the following chapters, the elements of prediction and intuition that I’ve discussed will come together in practice. You’ll see that just as hearing intuition is no more than reading the signals we give ourselves, predicting human behavior is no more than reading the signals others give us.







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