Dan Gardner is the New York Times best-selling author of Risk, Future Babble, Superforecasting (co-authored with Philip E. Tetlock), and How Big Things Get Done (co-authored with Bent Flyvbjerg). His books have been published in 26 countries and 20 languages. Prior to becoming an author, Gardner was an award-winning investigative journalist. More >


I've spoken for organizations worldwide, including Google, Goldman Sachs, Siemens, Zurich Insurance, Khosla Ventures, NGOs, hedge funds, "big ideas" conferences, military and intelligence agencies, and governments of every variety.

What do I speak about? It tends to be in line with the content of my books, which means psychology, risk, forecasting, planning, and execution. Which sounds a little dry put like that. So I don't put it like that.

I bring the classical skills of the storyteller to bear, turning abstract concepts and processes into vivid images and stories that stick. I provoke. I surprise. I get the audience thinking, and keep them thinking in the days and weeks that follow.

Want to see? In this extremely short talk -- sixteen minutes on the nose -- I explain why intelligence and knowledge can actually make people more likely to fall for nonsense. (Or to use the technical term, "bullshit.")

Following is a list of specific talks I often give. This list is cribbed from the website of Speaker's Spotlight, my speaking agency, so please go there for details, including how to book.

  • Getting Big Things Done On Time and On Budget

The world’s largest database on major projects — with over 16,000 projects in more than 20 different project categories — revealed that fewer than half of projects (47.9%) finish on budget. Fewer than one in ten (8.5%) are completed on budget and on time. And a nearly invisible 0.5% of all projects are completed on budget, on time, and with the expected benefits. Worse, projects aren’t merely at risk of being a little off. Catastrophic failure is frighteningly common. Even home renovations can easily come in three or four times over budget. And the story is the same around the world.

If projects are so important, why are we so bad at them? In this talk, I draw on the book How Big Things Get Done to look at why failure is so common and why a rare few projects are triumphs. The mind-expanding lessons about how we conceive, plan, and deliver major projects apply to projects of every imaginable variety, at every scale, from home renovations to space exploration.

  • Risk Perception and Misperception

We sometimes worry about things we shouldn’t and don’t worry about things we should. Worse, we dismiss clear evidence that our risk perceptions are off the mark and we act in ways that may leave us poorer, unhealthier, and less safe.

In this stimulating and entertaining presentation, I show the explanation lies in our brain and the ancient environment that shaped it. The good news? Understanding how psychology can lead us astray is the first step to catching our mistakes about risk and making smarter decisions.

  • Communicating Risk

You’re sure you’ve got a risk figured out but the people on the other side of the table don’t believe you. You show them the data. They shrug. Doesn’t matter, they say. You are astonished. “But the data proves I am right! Look at the data!” They shrug. Not convinced, they say. This makes no sense. “Look at the data and stop being irrational!” Now they’re unconvinced and angry.

This scenario has played out a thousand times in a thousand places and it always ends badly. The problem lies in a failure to understand that while logic and numbers matter in people’s thinking, they often matter much less than we realize. In this presentation, I explore the fundamentals of how people perceive, think, and decide — then shows how we can speak to what really shapes people’s judgements with language that engages, informs, and changes minds.

  • From Forecasting to Superforecasting

Accurately forecasting the near- to medium-range future isn’t impossible. But it is hard. And doing it better than your competitors is that much harder.

In this presentation, I delve into the largest study of forecasting ever undertaken — a program sponsored by the United States Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Among the many revelations was the discovery of a small percentage of forecasters who were consistently outstanding.

What makes these “superforecasters” so good? They are well-informed, but superforecasters don’t owe their success to specialist knowledge or secret information. They are intelligent, but it isn’t their IQ that makes them the best. And they are numerate, but their accuracy isn’t the product of algorithms and arcane math.

What makes the difference is how they think. And that isn’t something they’re born with. The cognitive characteristics and mental habits of superforecasters can be learned, adopted, and practiced. With the right attitude and effort, any forecaster can become a superforecaster.

  • Building a Team that Delivers

Big projects need a diverse array of people and organizations to come together and work as a team. Managers know that. They talk about teamwork constantly. They urge people to pull together. And yet big projects routinely fail to deliver as promised because too often people and organizations do not come together and become a real team.

In this talk, I draw on dramatic case studies to show how project leaders overcame common barriers to create a powerful sense of shared identity, purpose, and commitment to the project. By doing that, they created true teams. And those teams moved mountains.