The film "Moneyball" tells us that building a baseball team, by sheer data alone, can work.
In fact, it may even work better. Better than the time-honored, scouting-based art of combining data with another measure -- messy, unquantifiable, unpredictable, sometimes-down-but-sometimes-miraculous, humanity.
Caught up in the movie, you root for Billy Beane. The numbers guy with the new approach, taking on the established ways of old. The old school is represented by the wise old codgers who aren't ready to throw away their dignity, or the credit they deserve for their nuanced expertise, honed over years in major and minor-league ballparks across America. We watch them argue to Billy that this isn't science. Crucial intangibles are part of this, too. Heart. Passion. Previous experience, private dreams.
So I'm cheering Billy on against the old dinosaurs.
But wait. Something is making me uncomfortable about this. I'm pulling for the guy who represents what I fight all the time. And those old codgers are saying the stuff I've said. And I know nothing about baseball.
The other day a colleague of mine, but from a PR background, was tearing apart a print ad he'd recently seen. He told me, "You wouldn't believe it. These are professionals doing this work. And they're totally disregarding what we all know, the facts, about how people consume advertising."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"You and I know that studies prove time and again that people do not read italics in headlines. In fact, they don't read all caps. The eye scans the tops of letters only, so upper with lower case letters words reads better. Also, color. Everyone knows red is alarming. Yellow is fun. And the people who did that ad call themselves professionals?"
I'd heard it before. And since that meeting, saw it again. In quotes like "(Blue) can send a cold and uncaring message."
Suddenly, instead of talking to my friend from PR, I'm talking to Billy Beane. Crucial intangibles are part of this, too. Heart. Passion. Previous experience, private dreams.
Some will tell you the message in the movie is that data rules. That technology is what you leverage if you're smart. Suddenly old ways, and invisible tools, like instinct, ingenuity and guts, appear lame and naïve.
I loved the movie. I cheered Billy on, and I would again. He's an underdog who beat the big guys by their own rules. But to me, that's the message here. If you believe in yourself, you can do it.
I just hope the next underdog is on the side that recognizes the mysterious, unpredictable, and often awesome power of humanity.