DC Comics on the Power of Asking Yourself, “What If?”

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In the world of superheroes, DC Comics – home of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc. – is in the middle of an all-encompassing Multiverse storyline. The easiest way to explain it is to imagine that a minor aspect of the past is changed. How would this affect decisions that are made, the state of the world, and future events? It’s a conglomeration of “what if’s.”

For DC, the Multiverse is actually 52 alternate realities where each world is slightly different. What if Superman had been raised in Nazi Germany instead of Kansas? What if Lex Luthor became President of the United States? What if Batman and Superman ruled the planet as fascist dictators instead of superheroes? Each story takes one seemingly minor event and asks, “What are the ramifications if something else had happened?” It makes for entertaining reading and a lesson in how we can make more informed decisions.

An “alternate reality” approach invokes a reflective mindset into major decisions. Whereas we typically base solutions upon how effective it will be today, examining alternatives prior to making a decision challenges you to predict the potential long-term consequences of choosing Plan A versus Plan B versus C, D and so on. Relying on predictions is not full-proof, but it may be more effective then you think.

In a prominent study by Philip Tetlock, a group of pundits and foreign affairs experts were asked to predict geopolitical events. Overall, their predictions were consistently not accurate. However, Tetlock found that one style of thinking seemed to aid prediction – those who considered multiple explanations and weighed each option performed better than those who relied on a single big idea.

Super forecasters, as Tetlock called them, utilized a multiverse mentality to ask “what if.” And want some good news? His research also found that we are all capable of becoming super-ish forecasters. A few factors include:

Expertise. Forecasters with greater industry knowledge and job-specific information tend to make better predictions. This is not necessarily based on a college degree; it is dependent on genuine domain expertise that comes with experience, hard work, and time.

Practice. The more predictions you make and the more you analyze their precision, the more likely you are to improve accuracy.

Team-based. Being part of a collaborative group leads to better predictions than individuals who predict alone. Even more, a team of super forecasters performs better than a generally super team.

Open-minded. You can’t examine multiple options without mental flexibility. Keeping an open-mind may seem like something you can’t change, but there is research stating that each of us can be more open-minded depending on the situation.

Slow down. Time may not always be a luxury, but rushing a prediction produces flawed results. The longer you deliberate before making a forecast, the better you’ll do.

Start asking, “what if?” What if I hire this person? What if I don’t? What if I propose my grand plan in the next executive meeting? What if I hold off for a week? Or run it by a few more people first? Going through every scenario is not possible and will inevitably lead to analysis paralysis, but allowing some time to think critically through your plan (versus self-affirming how right you are) will make your problem solving more comprehensive, your predictions more accurate, and your decisions more fully realized. Once you have this nailed down, you can consider a world with a vampire Batman.

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