The old research has been pretty consistent: optimists are lousy at predicting what will really happen because they always assume “happy day”. But no one has ever seen how optimists predictions change as they get more information.
A recent study (currently a working paper) tracked MBA students performance predictions across semesters. It turned out that the students more who had more optimistic projections in the beginning (and were wrong) got much more accurate over time as they got more information and feedback. Pessimists, oddly, got less accurate as the semester progressed. Apparently having the initial optimism about success (when they have no data) doesn’t color their ability to make more accurate evaluations as they get more data.
However, we all know stories about business leaders who kept on thinking that things were going to go their way when they clearly weren’t. There is probably a nuance that needs to be addressed here that is being missed by everyone.
I’d also be interested in how level of capacity affects these findings. Were the “pessimists” simply working at the wrong level? I think MBA work, even at Duke, is level 2 or less.
Read the whole working paper:
Ron Kaniel, Cade Massey & David T. Robinson. 20087/8. “Optimism without illusion: The impact of experience on expectations“. Yale Working Papers.
Image Credit: “Aberdeen Angus im Gadental an den Steilhängen des Muttawangjoch oder auch Mutterwangjoch genannt. Im Hintegrund die Südflanke des Feuerstein 2271m.” © 2013 Böhringer Friedrich (CC BY-SA 3.0 AT). Via Wikimedia Commons.