Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder
Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2009 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.
I got Leonard & Martin to read Michael Lewis's Moneyball recently. (By the way, Brendan, I think you'd like Martin's blog, if you're not already reading it.) I'll read anything by Lewis. In Liar's Poker, Moneyball, The Ballad of Big Mike, In Nature's Casino, Serfs of the Turf, and other works, he explores social histories of arbitrage. What kind of person perceives new opportunities in established systems? What kind of person embodies a new opportunity? Where do their values, histories, aims, and rules differ from or align with the establishment's?
I especially appreciate the light touch Lewis brings to these questions. In his stories, those questions are implications, excursions from the narrative. Malcolm Gladwell foregrounds those questions and uses his characters and anecdotes as props; he seems to overreach because he's going for the universal. Lewis stays in the particular, telling one story well and rarely addressing his larger themes explicitly.
But there is one passage in Moneyball, one Lewis marks with "there will be a lesson in that", that fills me with expanding religious fervor each time I read it:
As the thirty-fifth pick approaches, Eric once again leans into the speaker phone. If he leaned in just a bit more closely he might hear phones around the league clicking off, so that people could laugh without being heard. For they do laugh. They will make fun of what the A's are about to do; and there will be a lesson in that. The inability to envision a certain kind of person doing a certain kind of thing because you've never seen someone who looks like him do it before is not just a vice. It's a luxury. What begins as a failure of the imagination ends as a market inefficiency: when you rule out an entire class of people from doing a job simply by their appearance, you are less likely to find the best person for the job.
Another resonant quote from the next page (116):
"You know what gets me excited about a guy? I get excited about a guy when he has something about him that causes everyone else to overlook him and I know that it is something that just doesn't matter." - Paul DePodesta
And from Martin:
Obviously that's fun to read just from a "nerd power!" perspective, but it's also fascinating to think of all the other industries still out there, plagued by chronic inefficiencies (i.e. opportunities) and just begging for the right nerd to come along and revolutionize them.
31 Aug 2009, 2:05 a.m.