Moneyball’s Real Lesson? You Owe a Debt to the Unlucky

Moneyball Blog Picture

I was nervous.  No, I was terrified.  Despite countless public speaking engagements every year and thousands of business presentations, I watched as the cup of coffee shook in my hand.  I had met plenty of famous people before. What was so unusual this time around?  Deep down, I knew.

I was about to meet Michael Lewis, a world-renowned author and writer of Moneyball, and Billy Beane, the real-life General Manager of the Oakland A’s and the book’s protagonist.  My entire childhood had revolved around playing baseball and memorizing statistics on the backs of baseball cards.  Many years later, my management-consulting career found me implementing technology and analytics around the globe for large businesses.  Somehow, these two individuals had brought together both of these passions.  I could hardly believe I was hosting them backstage at our conference.

Thirty minutes later, I left the meeting dumbfounded.  I learned that I had completely missed the real meaning of the book.  Like so many others, I had endlessly referenced Moneyball as an example of “finding and driving a competitive advantage,” “demonstrating the power of analytics,” “allowing you to see things that others cannot.”  It was not that these phrases were wrong. They just did not articulate the real lesson within the pages.

Lewis explained that he “didn’t write the book about baseball,” but rather “wrote about how people were undervalued.” He summed up many of his points eloquently a few months later when he delivered the commencement address at Princeton:

“The Moneyball story has practical implications.  If you use better data, you can find better values.  There are always market inefficiencies to exploit and so on.  But to me, it has a broader and less practical message:  Don’t be deceived by life’s outcomes.  Life’s outcomes, while not entirely random, have a huge amount of luck baked into them.  Above all, recognize that if you have had success, you have also had luck.  And with luck comes obligation.  You owe a debt, and not just to your gods.  You owe a debt to the unlucky.”

I was speechless. It was obvious the book had a much deeper meaning. We are always preaching the importance of “getting behind the data,” or “finding the story within a story.” By only looking for the phrases and paragraphs that supported my own pre-conceived beliefs, I had failed to absorb the book’s broader message.

Of course, Lewis is right.  The trick for all of us is finding our special talent and leveraging it to repay our debt to the unlucky.  From a technology perspective, sometimes that is easier than it appears.  Every day I read countless articles on how analytics help us solve important issues, ranging from preventing the spread of infectious diseases, predicting heart failure or detecting the onset of sepsis in infants. Almost every day, our opportunity to give back sits right in front of us.

Watch Lewis’ speech below, and find out why you should not “assume that you deserve the extra cookie.”

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Categories: analytics, big data, Business, CIO, technology, Uncategorized

About the Author,

Steve Harvey is the Worldwide Leader for Technology and Analytics across IBM's Business Process Outsourcing unit.


2 Responses to Moneyball’s Real Lesson? You Owe a Debt to the Unlucky

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