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Battle of the Bestsellers

21 Jan 2005 by Matthew Linderman

Two current “it” books seem to offer competing theories. “Blink” says experts succeed when they go with their guts (”decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.”). But “Moneyball” argues that baseball execs who analyze stats outperform scouts who go with instinct. David Brooks points out the interesting theoretical split between the two in his NY Times review of Blink.

The thick-slicing part of the brain reminds me that not long ago I read Michael Lewis’s great book, ”Moneyball,” about a baseball executive who used rigorous statistical analysis to clobber fuzzy-minded old pros who relied on their gut impressions. What is the relationship between self-conscious reason and backstage intuition? Which one is right more often?

10 comments so far (Post a Comment)

21 Jan 2005 | Bob H. said...

Aren't both theories correct? Wouldn't it depend on what the decisions are for or about? This of course would differ from industry to industry and depend on the decision makers' experience/education/etc. Steve Jobs won't be able to make the same qualified decisions as Neil Allen (Yankees bullpin coach) about players and vice versa.

21 Jan 2005 | Bob H. said...

Blink - "The Power of Thinking Without Thinking"

The perfect title for our next IT retreat.

21 Jan 2005 | Josh said...

David Brooks usually annoys the bejesus out of me, but this was well-written, entertaining, and smart. I haven't read Blink yet--I do plan to--but one of the reasons I've been putting it off is because I suspect I'll end up feeling the same way Brooks does.

This (unfortunately locked-up) article from the New York Review covered some of the same territory from a philosopher's perspective.

21 Jan 2005 | Mike D. said...

A lot of Moneyball was about not just using stats but using the right stats. For example, on base percentage is a lot better indicator of value than RBIs. Baseball is such a statistically intensive game that not only can you not afford to go on instinct alone, but you can't afford to go on commonly-known statistics either. Moneyball is about diving deeper into the stats and finding what's really important.

Blink, on the other hand (which I will be reading on vacation next week), seems to be more about situations which aren't so cut-and-dry. Future trends can't always be predicted by statistical analysis and that appears to be why Gladwell is saying that having a good instinct for your industry is more important than any numbers you may run.

21 Jan 2005 | Craig said...

Another viewpoint to consider is the one laid out by James Surowiecki in "The Wisdom of Crowds." He makes a persuasive argument that a properly constructed crowd/group makes better decisions than any individual in it.

I've been on enough committees to know that they often make decisions based on the comfort level of the most risk-adverse person on the committee. And the very title of the book made me roll my eyes.

But Surowiecki convinced me with the story of a hunt for a lost sub. Many experts were asked to give their best guesses on where the sub could be found. All of the answers were then compiled and averaged and the sub was found about 200 yards from the composite answer. No single expert predicted the location with that amount of accuracy.

21 Jan 2005 | Bob said...

I heard Gladwell talk the other day at his book tour launch and most of his examples were about how our "blinks" are inaccurate and should be tempered by hard evidence: cops should call HQ and follow a strict, predetermined process instead of jumping out of their squad cars and pursuing on foot; orchestras should audition people behind screens to avoid gender bias; boards of directors should avoid letting the physical stature of potential CEOS influence their decisions.

Blink is about how we DO make decisions unconsciously, not how we SHOULD do so...

21 Jan 2005 | pb said...

I think it's primarily a question of how much data is available. For many busienss decisions there really is very limited comparable data available not matter how much research, surveying, focus groups, modeling, etc. is done. Completely the opposite with baseball where a voluminous amount of perfectly correlated information is available.

21 Jan 2005 | Benjy said...

I haven't read Blink yet, and read Moneyball when it first came out so I may not have all facts correct. Nonetheless, I'll weigh in...

From what I've read about Blink, it looks at people's responses to specific events or actions. Like a cop knowing whether or not a perp is about to shoot them and that they need to shoot first.

While new scouts had a better track record by pouring over stats, Moneyball talked about the "old school" scouts looking at physical attributes. While many looked at a pitcher and liked that he was 6'4" and threw 95mph, nonetheless many of those players didn't pan out. But other "old school" scouts probably had that sense like discussed in Blink and were successful in sensing a players effectiveness in spite of a lack of attributes. Somebody saw something in a young Greg Maddux...

26 Jan 2005 | Don Schenck said...

Rocky Bleier ran the 40 in 5.3. Go figure.

05 Feb 2005 | Matt Langeman said...

Here is an interview of Malcolm Gladwell on in which he discusses this question.

"You are right to bring up Moneyball, because reading Michael Lewis' book was a real inspiration for me.... But this doesn't mean that all instinctive judgments about players are useless, because the question of whether a guy can hit is only one of a number of questions that a scout has to answer. GMs also want to know: is the guy lazy or a hard worker? Is he coachable? Does he have good habits? Will he be a good clubhouse presence? How strong is his competitive desire? ... I always thought that the critics of "Moneyball" misinterpreted what Lewis was saying. He wasn't saying that all instinctive scouting judgments are flawed. He was saying that there are some questions -- like predicting hitting ability -- that are better answered statistically, and that the task of a successful GM is to understand the difference between what can and can't be answered that way. That's my argument in Blink as well."

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