War and back to the office seem like two opposed topics, and they are. However, I have recently noticed a lot of internet chatter about both. They are incomparable, but having a quick way to predict both can provide you with insights, and when you learn how to predict, you will be more levelheaded and realistic at work.

In Nassim Taleb's book Antifragile,  he introduces the "Lindy Effect," which states that the life expectancy of something depends on its current longevity. The concept was theorized, in the 1960s,  by comedians doing post mortems of their shows at Lindy's delicatessen in New York, Lindy's. The comedians noticed the best way to predict how future success of a comedian was based primarily on the person's past works. Taleb explains it elegantly using how long a book has been in print.

If a book has been in print for forty years, I can expect it to be in print for another forty years. But, and that is the main difference, if it survives another decade, then it will be expected to be in print another fifty years. This, simply, as a rule, tells you why things that have been around for a long time are not "aging" like persons, but "aging" in reverse. Every year that passes without extinction doubles the additional life expectancy. This is an indicator of some robustness. The robustness of an item is proportional to its life! - Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder p. 318  [8]

Return to Office Back to Normal

My work-from-home adventure started about two years ago. According to the Lindy effect, RTO will be "normal" in approximately two years (or at least the new normal). The prediction makes sense (which could be confirmation bias), as some companies push to get their employees back to work full time while others take an iterative approach. It seems it should be faster until you consider the factors that prevent us from going back to the way it was.

  1. Costs - Employees haven't had to pay for parking eating out parking, or worried about the commute
  2. Daycare - A lot of new babies, labor constraints in daycare facilities, and facilities
  3. Labor shifts - Many people changed jobs during the pandemic, and it is an employees market for now.
  4. Familiarity - Objects at rest stay at rest. There is more inertia in WFH than in RTO.

Getting the underlying systematic support will take time to rebuild. The companies that take a longer time horizon might develop some innovative ways to solve some unique problems. We have never been here before, and humans are clever.

The Lindy effect is beneficial for predicting a lot of things.

  • How long will your team stay together? How long has it been together?
  • How long will IBM be around in some form or fashion? 110 years or until 2132.
  • How long will your company be around?  
  • When will my Chicago Bear with a Super Bowl? I don't want to talk about it.  

Predicting the end of the Russia Ukraine conflict

For the estimate of the Russia Ukraine conflict, we could use the Lindy effect to predict that there is a good chance it will be over in 6 weeks because it started six weeks ago and should be over around June 1, 2022. It seems reasonable but before we celebrate our newfound knowledge, let's introduce some probabilities. To do this, we will use the Copernican Principle. Using this principle, we can predict how long anything will last as long as we are not at the beginning or end of something. Being at the beginning or end of something is unique, and therefore the predictions go out the window. In other words, most of the time, we are observing normal events that would make up 95% of the "something's" life.

NOTE: When you do a prediction do a low and high prediction. It will cause you to think longer and better about an idea and also prevent the priming. Life isn't binary

The Equations

These look scary, but we will walk through each one, so bear with me.

Confidence of your prediction, we are going to use 95% and 50%

Again, this looks scary, but the equation's left hand is the minimum prediction, and the right hand is the maximum.  

This looks scary, but all we need to find is "z" and know the duration of the event we are predicting.

Predicting the end with 95% Confidence

Finding "z" with 95% Confidence.

Adding duration of the Russia Ukraine Conflict (46 days at the time of writing)

Now when you are at a party with friends, you can say with 95% confidence that the War will be over in as little as a 1 Day but could last about 5 Years.

Predicting the end with 50% Confidence

Okay, let's turn our prediction into a coin flip or have 50% confidence the formula is the same, but "z" changes from 0.025 to 0.25.  

Having less confidence leads to more narrow predictions but one that seems plausible. For example, with 50% confidence, you can say that the War will be over in 15 days and could last 138 days or till August 27.  

Of course, these are only predictions and have many moving parts, and by their nature, they are likely to be wrong. However, knowing that you can be wrong might be the best thing you can be. It allows us to consider what else could be true and opens opportunities for us to see, ever so slightly, into our blind spots.