The AFN Origin Story

More than two years ago, Brent and David (AFN’s co-founders), were discussing the corn market and a fairly routine question came up:  Could a summer corn market rally to $4.25 be possible?

While both agreed that the outcome was possible, the ensuing discussion made it clear that they weren’t on the same page.  By chance, Brent blurted out that there was a 70 percent chance and David retorted that the likelihood was only 10 percent. Why the disconnect? It was clear something was missing from how they each thought about uncertainty in the markets.

Basically, their expectations were ships in the night passing each other.

Brent and David realized they were both trapped in what they came to know as the “pyramid of doom”: 1) open-ended questions that lead to 2) vague or overly-confident responses that 3) aren’t revisited to check for accuracy.

They wanted to escape the pyramid of doom. So they started reading about decision-making processes. This Peter Drucker quote jumped out to them: “if you can’t measure something, you can’t improve it.”

In the corn example, they realized that they needed to start by asking the right question. For starters, “rally” needed to be better defined. What corn price were they even talking about? What time frame – a month from now or a year from now?

Perhaps not surprisingly, when presented with a question that’s ambiguous, people usually answer with statements like “it’s possible” or “maybe” or “it could happen”… but they might not even be addressing what the other person was *really* asking.

As CIA intelligence analyst Sherman Kent’s research pointed out quite starkly back in 1964, this type of discourse is not meaningful, no matter if you are debating the likelihood of potential military action (in Kent’s case) or fluctuations in commodity markets.

Over time, Brent and David discovered tools and concepts from authors like Kahneman, Tetlock, and Johnson that changed how we thought about decision making.  In the process, they learned how to make incremental improvements in the way they thought about these kinds of questions and how they analyzed uncertainties impacting agriculture.

Brent and David started regularly e-mailing each other with confidence-based forecasts. They felt like they were communicating better than ever about their expectations, which led to more insightful discussions. But eventually, new problems emerged… namely, general e-mail chaos from too many conversation threads.

There had to be a better way to track, monitor, and compare forecasts over time. Eventually, what started as a communication problem for Brent and David has become a platform we call the Ag Forecast Network.

To address the “triangle of doom” problem, unlike other platforms or media articles, the questions asked on AFN are specific and have a definitive outcome.  This allows everyone to forecast, share ideas, and learn without ambiguity.

AFN members respond to specific questions that have a definitive timeline. And perhaps even more importantly, you can easily revisit your past forecasts to check your accuracy or instantly compare your forecasts with the group consensus.

It’s also grown into a clearinghouse of relevant information. The AEI/AFN team produces and curates resources that are specific to the questions at hand. So no more spending hours wading through the internet looking for the right information or worrying about hidden influence in a news source.

Ever since Brent and David launched the AEI blog – more than five years ago – they have been committed to providing the best experience for their community – and that includes taking an unbiased approach to sharing ideas.

The AFN platform is 100% user-funded – and always will be. It’s important that the data you see and provide on the network is unbiased. That means no advertisements. It also means, any data you share on AFN is secure and will never be sold or used in any way without your permission. After all, at the end of the day, we are here to help you, and others across the ag community, think through the uncertainties you face.

Simply put, AFN was inspired by Brent and David’s personal journey to improve how they thought about and discussed uncertainties. AFN now helps you do the same with a  business model committed to the user experience.

Click here to start your AFN trial today.  Share your forecasts on agricultural questions, compare yourself to the consensus, and set out on your path to improving how you navigate uncertainty. Learn more about the Ag Forecast Network here, or see frequently asked questions.