Can you forecast better than a first grader? I would hope so, and of course most of us can. After all, our experience with forecasting tools and methodology far exceed those of children, our brains bigger ‘s, and we have more life  experience to help us make informed judgements. Or none of that is actually true, and all these years of accumulated knowledge actually puts you at a disadvantage to an 8 year old.

Kids live by their instincts, openly and without hesitation. They are enthusiastic about life, eager to learn, and curious about everything. Even though kids still have a lot to learn about predictive modeling using reinforcement learning techniques, just observing them can teach us many other practical lessons. These lessons are simple, yet as we focus on analytics, data, and the daily grind of our adult occupation, we may overlook what we could learn from our younger selves.

Here are six characteristics kids and preschool problem solvers have that we may want to think about emulating to improve our predictive analytics abilities.

1  – Children Don’t Make Assumptions

Children are more exploratory and more likely to change their minds, considering a wider range of possibilities – including even those that are unlikely. Adults are more hesitant to revise their beliefs. And even when they do so, they may only consider alternatives that they believe are likely to be true. In doing so, we walk away from numerous possibilities especially the unlikely.

Probabilistic thinking depends on the balance between “priors” – the beliefs we bring to a problem, and data. As we get older our “priors,” rationally enough, get stronger and stronger. We rely more on what we already know, or think we know, and less on new data.  Maybe we should approach data through the eyes of a child more and instead of causal relationships between variables, go on more fishing exercises for any possible relationship between any variables.

Children examine the details of setbacks though curious eyes and so they become learning experiences.

2- They Can be Wrong with Confidence

Kids are rarely mired by hesitation or fear.  They usually dive head first into every situation, leaping over hurdles and improvise their approach when they must. As we get older, we begin to over-analyze our next move and hesitate because we’re afriad that we may not get it right. Most adults solve problems by wracking their brains for an existing solution and giving up if they can’t identify one. Children solve problems more creatively; they use trial and error when reference isn’t available. As adults – in our field especially – we must deal with ambiguity daily. There is something to say for diving in head first and being wrong with confidence.

demand forecasting

The unbiased curiosity of children provides insights into how we can be better forecasters

3- They Laugh and Keep Going

When kids are dealt an unexpected hand, they usually laugh it off and work around it. Kids just don’t seem to wallow in the things out of their control the way adults do. As adults, we become good at bringing up problems but spend little time on solutions. We see obstacles as insurmountable impediments, and setbacks as failures.  Instead, children examine the details of the outcome though curious eyes and so they become learning experiences. Remember this the next time you are reviewing forecast performance and instead start using setbacks to understand and learn more about variability and the process, rather than as a measure of individual performance.

Adults accept the status quo for what it is and rarely  search for better solutions.

4 -Kids Ask Lots of Questions

Why? How? Are we there yet?  Kids are curious and if they don’t know they are not afraid to ask someone else.  And more importantly they are not shy about questioning everything. While most adults embrace black-and-white answers to complex questions, those who keep asking “why” become the catalysts of change. Kids challenge their environment and ask why we do things the way we do. Adults accept the status quo for what it is and rarely  search for better solutions. Assumptions, models, almost everything we do or use is dynamic and as soon as we stop asking questions we stop getting answers.

5 – Children Think Everything Is Possible

As far as they are concerned every problem can be solved. What’s more, young children get praise and encouragement from their parents and teachers for almost any work they do. Adults on the other hand are only too well versed in what they cannot achieve and what cannot be done. They have experienced rejection, failure and limitations. Unfortunately, most companies reinforce this type of behavior. As individuals we need to challenge what we thought we knew to accomplish something faster, smarter or better than a current method. As companies, we don’t always want to praise only winners but also those who really put in an effort, or have a constant flow of suggestions. You will find this is the only way to lead to innovations and seeing that anything is possible.

6 – Kids Are Always Learning

Kids observe the people around them with enthusiastic intensity.  They typically mimic the actions that work and ignore the ones that don’t. As we grow older, we tend to become less observant, instead relying solely on formal instruction for expanding our skill set. We forget how well we learned when we were young by simply observing things. This has a couple of implications: to succeed in our volatile, complex, ambiguous world, we have no choice but to master our ability to adapt and keep learning. This is attending conferences, reading and writing articles, and keeping ahead of trends in our field. But learning is also being observant daily in what you are doing. It is seeing small significant patterns in data, uncovering key assumptions that others may overlook, or observing elements that may be contributing bias.

Final Thoughts

Maybe to get back some of the edge we had as kids, we need to start acting more childlike. Perhaps it is OK be a bit more childish and laugh more.

As adults we cannot let what we have learned through years of experience become the bias that stops us from growing. In the fields of Demand Planning, Forecasting, and Predictive Analytics we need to keep an open mind about data, never stop asking questions, challenge assumptions, and push past the limits of what is possible.  And most of all, never stop learning.