Methodology -
How is it produced?

Before the “how”, a quick word about the “why”. The idea of the Monthly Barometer originated after coming across the concept of “contextual intelligence” (coined by Nihtin Nohria several years ago, before he became Dean of Harvard Business School). He and his team researched for many years the qualities of the executives at companies that generated outstanding shareholder value over a sustained period of time, and concluded that only one trait – that of “contextual intelligence” (the sense of context; the ability to understand the trends), linked effective decision-makers across generations. This is even truer today than before: the ability to connect the dots, to anticipate, and to exploit emerging trends is not only a prerequisite for successful decision-makers, but also a condition for survival.

The Monthly Barometer is produced by a small research team benefitting from the input of several hundred thinkers and media leaders, and ultimately written by Thierry Malleret, one of the co-founders. Over the years, the Monthly Barometer’s production methods have constantly evolved in pursuit of an ever-greater intellectual and methodological rigor. 

We start by monitoring in a systematic manner:

  • “Op-eds” from the international media. The market for “op-eds” is global and exceedingly competitive. Therefore, “op-eds” from the Financial Times, the International Herald Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, etc. are the forum where opinions are being forged.  The way in which they are selected constitutes a good barometer of trends “in the making” and the formation of consensus / contrarian opinions. Put simply, “op-eds” are a distillation of all that matters;
  • Various blogs on particular issues or countries which we find insightful;
  • Various investors’ and investment banks’ newsletters.

More importantly, we ask a broad range of people in the Monthly Barometer’s network (all prominent thinkers and decision-makers from a variety of professional backgrounds and origins) to tell us what they think is important. We have about 50/60 major conversations a month. We view this process as essential because it allows us to tap into some of the most insightful brains worldwide, be they policy-makers, business leaders, top academics, or opinion-makers. The diversity in the composition of the network is essential – in order to provide meaningful, independent, “conflict-of-interest-free” advice to our subscribers, we want diversity of opinion, diversity of information, and diversity of attitude. The point being that diversity makes the group as a whole more intelligent (this argument is developed in The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki: diversity prevents groups from succombing to the problems that so often plague high-functioning teams: group think, peer pressure, homogeneity of thought. Any time a management team senses that “it is right and knows the answer”, it should seek a second – possibly contrarian – opinion. The book also makes the fascinating argument that a group comprising some very smart people and some who are not so smart always outperforms an all-smart group).

Every relevant article, plus all the interesting thoughts, ideas and conversations that emerge are incorporated in a word document that contains several categories (economics, geopolitics, environment, S&T, etc., sub-categories (in economics: financial markets, macro, etc.) and “sub-sub” categories (within macro: high-income countries, emerging markets, frontier markets, etc.). This master document quickly reaches about 200-300 pages. 

A week before the end of the month, the most salient issues are selected, the dots connected and opinions formed about their outcome. We do this by using the “analysis of competing hypotheses”, a method developed and recommended by Richard Heuer (a senior intelligence officer) in his Psychology of Intelligence Analysis (available on the CIA website). Heuer contends that today’s most acute problem is all the “chatter” : there is so much noise around that we tend to form opinions by falling back on intuitions, or hunches. Later, we seek confirming evidence for those views, shutting down dissonant information. As humans beings, we are indeed biased to look for confirmatory evidence : when someone is bullish on oil or China, for example, he tends to pick out the pro-oil or pro-China arguments in whatever he reads. It’s a fact of life : very few people train themselves to look for disconfirming evidence. To solve this problem, Heuer recommends the adoption of the “analysis of competing hypotheses”, which involves formulating two opposing arguments about any given issue and examining fresh information to see which one is gaining ground.  We do this for each bullet point that appears in the Monthly Barometer: we formulate two opposing arguments for any one of them, and then simply examine any fresh information that corroborates whichever argument is gaining ground (this requires compiling in the first place a list of the data, analysis or indices that could point in one direction or the other). We do this by talking to our network so that we can be aware of all sides of each argument. The value of the Monthly Barometer’s network is based upon the “strength of weak ties”. Proper exposure to diverse ways of thinking is a prerequisite for understanding and advancement, which can only be achieved by harnessing the so-called “strength of weak ties” (the concept coined by the sociologist Mark Granovetter in 1973). Good networks are built on the strength of these weak ties: connections to people who know other people whom you don’t know; and channels through which ideas, influence or information socially distant from an individual can succeed in reaching him.

A week or so before the end of the month, we start distilling the 200-300 pages into 1, having attached vital importance to what the German philosopher Emmanuel Kant called an “enlarged mentality”, i.e. by looking at problems and issues from a multiplicity of viewpoints before reaching a judgement.

Some relevant quotes:

  • “A good decision is based on knowledge, not on numbers”

    Plato

  • “Information is not knowledge, and knowledge is not understanding”

    Anthony Grayling

  • “The spoken word is ultimately much more powerful than the written”

    McLuhan

  • “To reduce the complex to the simple without being simplistic requires the painful necessity of thought”

    Bertrand Russell

  • “Most of us view the world as more benign than it really is, our own attributes as more favourable than they truly are, and the goals we adopt as more achievable than they are likely to be”

    Daniel Kahneman

  • “All ideas are second-hand”

    Mark Twain,
    discussing the combinatorial nature of creativity