Thursday, 22 November 2012

Book Review: Moneyball

Moneyball, by Michael Lewis is a book that's been waiting for me in my antilibrary for quite some time. I knew I'd get around to it, but I was quite content to leave it on the shelf until a time when it felt right to pick it up. I'll admit, I didn't care about baseball, I still don't, I'm not a big fan of sport in any context truth be told, for me this book was about something more meaningful, how do you win?

Michael Lewis is a superlative storyteller, I've thoroughly enjoyed every one of his books. He writes with an easy grace which draws you through the topic he is exploring, something which is often deeply dry, without you realising how much ground he is covering. That's certainly the case here, and I recommend the book just for the story it tells as much as anything. The characters are rich and engaging, the narrative is entertaining, it's rich in detail and nuance.

But what does Moneyball contain for the strategist or the campaigner? Initially I thought there were lots of little lessons in his book, there are of course, but it's couched in something much simpler. If you find a new way to understand the environment, you get to control it until everyone else figures out what you're doing differently. The Oakland A's were able to understand a new way to play the game of baseball, and maintain that edge for a substantial period of time, while everyone else continued to use scouts and out of date methods based on feelings and intuition to decide how to pick their players.

I don't believe there isnt a place for intuition in the world, far from it. But it has to come from a place of meaningful experience and it has to be checked against the facts in reality. Particularly in a time sensitive environment, there isnt always the opportunity to take a leisurely approach. Baseball however can draw on years and years of data about any particular player, which means it was almost inexcusable that teams relied on scouts seeing a player a few times and making their judgement based on gut reaction to their behaviour on that particular day.

Moneyball can also teach us another truth, although there is glory to be won in the epic win, the fantastic victory over all who stand in our way, winning is a binary state. If you don't win, you've lost. The characters in the Oakland A's embraced that philosophy, and recognised that by winning they would draw the crowds, so that was irrelevant. All that mattered was turning the money they had into wins, and to make it a consistent process.

There's something fascinating about the idea of abandoning years of tradition and replacing it with a new edifice, based on the fact that in the end, science is better than the gut at making decisions. It's nice to imagine that it's otherwise, but it's not. This book is a case study in the importance of finding the right way to make a decision and then following through in the face of opposition.

Superb, an absolute must read.
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