Friday, March 12, 2004
On Saturday, the entry was about MBWT (Management by Wishful Thinking), & I took The Sporting News to task for having printed a pre-season overview that suggested 18 teams would improve while at the same time only 10 would decline. Based on my thinking, baseball is a zero-sum game, and for every extra win there has to be an extra loss, so 10 declines wouldn't blanace 18 improvements..
Bruce Adelsohn pushed back on pieces of my logic and his note has merit (abridged here):
I think your analysis of the excessively optimistic views of baseball reporters in springtime is facile, or at least more superficial than your usual effort. In addition to the three reasons you mention about why writers would believe a team has improved, there is the belief that baseball is not a zero-sum game in terms of talent. While it certainly is recordwise, as you note, there is a widespread perception that the incoming talent from the ranks of the minor leagues will more than make up for it. I believe that it is so, though not to the extent that is perceived; that is, the level at which the game is played is increasing annually. (Yes, I can see that as a parallel in the business world. A business SHOULD aim to improve, always.)
Also, in your example, eighteen teams are listed as believed to have improved. This is likely true on paper; nevertheless, unpredictable events such as injuries will play some part in determining how many of those predictions fall short (at least three, unless as you note some team tanks atrociously). Although baseball GMs (and reporters) are aware of injuries, most preseason assessments are not written with them in mind. (I imagine a good business plan WOULD include contingencies for events such as loss of key personnel to illness or defection, though. Such a plan wouldn't necessarily make up the loss completely, if at all, though it would allow the firm to continue functioning.)
I wonder if you might consider addressing an amendment to your last point in more detail (or if I have missed it, please point out where): while the lack of quality is not free, quality costs more. Or does it? (My conclusion: quality might cost more up front, but, like all good investments, pays for itself over time.).
My response (also abridged) both agreed and disagreed with his arguments. Mr. Adelsohn is a publishing/layout professional, which is why you'll see a reference to printers.
I don't disagree, though I'm inclined to hold to my original point. Let me make a tiny desktop publishing analogy for a minute. Let's say you own a 600 x 1200 dpi color laser. Your competitors own 2400 x 2400 dpi technology. You buy a new (better resolution) printer like theirs.
Are you better in the Bruce sense? Yep, sure. Can you use it to market your service. In the Jeff sense, nope. You might retain customers you would have lost otherwise (if they cared about such specifications), but it's not likely to bring you new business. You get a bit of a tax break, technically on paper you're better, but your competitive position isn't improved.
Another point I didn't make but that re-inforces your side: the overall rolling average quality improves every season (with blips and exceptions). The fact is that the quality of ball played on the field goes up every decade, with the improvement in techniques, nutrition, a wider pool of potential choices in talent. So it's technically true that the team is "better", but in the sense of is it better prepared to win additional games than last season, the answer may be "no" (as you noted). I guess my defense of my position is that the answer "better" was true, BUT TO THE WRONG QUESTION.
But Adelsohn's point has merit, and is deserving of consideration in the your own decision-making equations outside of baseball. Quality is free, as Adelsohn points out, in the long run (and I'll add, "in compsotite, that is, most of the time, but not in very case").
ANOTHER DATA POINT -- & A USEFUL TOOL
Sometimes a single graphic can point out a concept better than a long discussion, regardless of how precise and intelligent that discussion is. Mike Gutierrez, Alaska's #1 All-Natural blogger, sent me a copy of this graphic, which appeared in the New York Times (warning, the guy who wrote the attached article is considered controversial; the data shown, however is official government issue and indisputable). If politics is not your cup of meat, just look at the graphic at the top (NYT requires registration) and skip the text below it.
I saw this graphic in the New York Times and it struck me as a greatly exaggerated example of Management By Wishful Thinking.
I couldn't agree more -- it's a perfect example. To many people, MBWT is just a concept. I suggest the graphic Mike sent is the single best shorthand epiphany I've seen, condensed into a small space, clearly illustrated.
If you need to be reminded about MBWT yourself or wish to remind (secretly or otherwise) another manager of his MBWT tendencies, print out the Times graphic, trim it nicely, and crazy-glue it to the offender, or pass it out in meetings like a Dick Tracy Crimestopper to support some of your relentless realism in the face of MBWT.
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