In the last few years, my crystal ball has been working overtime. Lethal Agent, a story about a weaponized coronavirus, was released shortly before the COVID-19 outbreak. A year later, Total Power’s warnings about the vulnerability of America’s power infrastructure were confirmed by the Texas blackout. Enemy at the Gates was intended to begin a three-book arc about the collapse of America’s democracy, but all the talk of stolen elections and the Capitol insurrection were so close to my story line that I had to change it. And now, a few years after the publication of Red War, the Russian aggression that I wrote about has come to pass.
I’ve been getting a lot of email from fans asking how I’ve been so successful with my predictions lately. It’s an interesting topic.
Be Curious. Be Skeptical.
Psychologists have done research into people’s ability to predict the future and found that a select few—dubbed superforecasters—are surprisingly good at it. These people tend not to be experts in any particular field and aren’t even necessarily abnormally intelligent. The main things they have in common are an endless curiosity about the world and a kernel of doubt about everything they believe.
I was struck by that research because those are a couple of my defining personality traits. From a young age, I felt compelled to know how things work. Why do tortoises live so long? Where does that dirt road lead? How do you rebuild a car engine? The subject matter has never made all that much difference. I just want to understand.
Further, I’m always questioning my positions. Mark Twain once said “It’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” I live by that adage and have an odd (some would say disconcerting) ability to change my beliefs when presented with credible evidence that they’re wrong.
Get Out Of The Bubble
The second—and just as important—component to accurate predictions is simple but increasingly rare: Get your information from a wide variety of sources. The Internet has turned out to be a two-edged sword. It puts the entire world at our fingertips, but also allows us to filter information that doesn’t confirm our existing biases. Of course, my news feeds include such mainstays as Fox and the New York Times, but also Al Jazeera, Spanish Euronews, and even the Russian propaganda reported by RT. And then there are the more specialized outlets that cover economics, science, and the emerging technologies that increasingly propel our society.
Keep An Open Mind (But Not So Open That Your Brain Falls Out)
I take all those perspectives and let them percolate in the back of my mind. After a few weeks, months, and sometimes even years, I’m able to make my model of the world just a little more accurate.
Admittedly, it’s not for everyone. Sacred cows have to be slaughtered, facts have to be meticulously checked, and people you admire have to be met with the same skepticism as ones you despise. Done correctly, this will eventually compel you to discard one of your core beliefs. I can tell you from experience that it’s a pretty harrowing moment. But also, a strangely liberating one.