Nate Silver’s Advice: Find Something Other People Aren’t Good At

[ 0 ] June 30, 2013 |

Nate Silver turned his hobby into a career – several times – by essentially finding things other people aren’t good at, and now he is perhaps the most well-known statistician in U.S. politics.

The founder of The New York Times political blog says the way he got to the top of his field over the years is by carving out a niche for himself  – whether it be playing poker or political predictions – in a field that isn’t already crowded with reliable experts and pros. But there was no plan to become what political guru David Gergen has called “the new Gallup.” “In reality,” Silver said, “it was about being dissatisfied.”

Watch Nate Silver talk to genConnect at the 2013 Aspen Ideas Festival about finding success amid dissatisfaction and how the 2016 presidential election is something to start talking about now:

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In his case, in the “Moneyball” era of baseball, Silver wasn’t happy with the way that sport was being covered. He developed PECOTA, a system for forecasting the performance and career development of Major Leaguge Baseball players.

When it Silver saw the “same errors of thought when it came to political coverage. If you want something better – it’s not the easiest way to do it but the most saistifying way – is to do it yourself and kind of put into practice some of the ways you would go about looking at the world again.”


Statistician Nate Silver of with genConnect’s Baruch Shemtov

Silver began to attain notoriety in the lead-up to the 2008 presidential elections with his predictions. Then, after correctly predicted the winner of 49 of the 50 states in the race between Barack Obama and John McCain and the winner of all 35 U.S. Senate races that year, he was named among “The World’s 100 Most Influential People” by Time in April 2009. Since then, Silver’s award-winning FiveThirtyEight blog was licensed for publication by The New York Times (now named FiveThirtyEight: Nate Silver’s Political Calculus), and his 2012 book, The Signal and the Noise, reached best-seller status. In the 2012 election between Obama and Mitt Romney, Silver did it again – uncannily predicting the winner of all 50 states and the District of Columbia and 31 out of 33 U.S. Senate races.

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Looking ahead to the 2016 presidential election, Silver says it is never too early to start strategizing and predicting. “There is certainly more at stake in 2016 than in 2014,” he says, since 2014 is a midterm election that will leave the same Democratic president in place and Republicans in charge of at least one branch of Congress. But in 2016, both the Democrats and Republicans need to put up a new candidate to run for president, versus a challenger running against an incumbent.

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“It takes almost four years to run a presidential campaign and 2016 is where everything in control is at stake. It’s a really exciting year,” he said.

Source: Public US Senate Photo

Hilary Clinton/U.S. Senate

In 2016, voters can expect political figures such as Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Scott Walker of Wisconsin to consider running for the Republican nomination for president. And don’t count out rising GOP star Sen. Marco Rubio.

“There’s no one in the GOP who can clear the field as much as Hilary Clinton on the Democratic side,” Silver said, echoing what many pundits have said about the presidential race in three years.

The best piece of advice Silver has received?

“I try not to listen too much” to others’ advice, Silver said. But “it’s really important to listen to negative feedback.” What’s unfortunate, he said, is that the more successful you are, the less negative feedback you tend to receive, whether it’s because some people are passive aggressive or deferential to their boss. And when it comes to politics, it’s vital to get negative feedback, particularly if it’s to right a wayward campaign.

“Creating an environment where you can get negative feedback that’s good and honest and then react to it – I think it’s a problem a lot of successful people have,” Silver said. “I think it’s a rally useful piece of advice that seems easy but is really hard to do.”

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Category: Aspen Ideas Festival 2013

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About Nate Silver: Nate Silver has become today's leading statistician through his innovative analyses of political polling. He first gained national attention during the 2008 presidential election, when he correctly predicted the results of the primaries and the [...]
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