Today is the premiere of "Moneyball", the long anticipated movie starring Brad Pitt. Based on the book by the same name, this is a story of how the Oakland Athletics baseball team actively leveraged player statistics as business intelligence, and how this allowed them to successfully compete against the huge payroll differentials among just about every other Major League Baseball team. In spite of the fact that they had significantly less money to pay the players they hoped to recruit, the Oakland A's developed the art of winning into a science, and changed baseball in the process.
Bucking the long accepted, "know 'em when you see 'em" approach to player recruitment used pretty much by everyone in baseball, Manager Billy Beane and his team of MBAs figured out how to use broadly available player statistics to find and recruit the highest performing prospects as reported by their statistics, not by the usual folk wisdom favored by scouts. In many cases, the statistical high performers were complete unknowns, not necessarily looking anything like the standard kind of player scouts tended to favor. By virtue of their unknown status, the A's were able to sign them at salaries the team could actually afford to pay. They were able to keep them long enough to foster talents. And while many an Oakland A team member would go on to great big huge contracts with other teams, they did so after mastering ther craft while wearing an A's uniform.
I was so captivated by the analytics possibilities from the movie buzz (yes, I know. I'm a nerd) that I went out and bought a copy of the book Moneyball by Michael Lewis at my local bookstore over the weekend. It just seemed like there are things that education types could learn about using stats as part of a decision strategy. It was a fast compelling read. I have to tell you, there are many things that those of us starting to think about using analytics to improve our practice can learn from this story.
Without spending a lot of time on the details I thought this one quote might resonate a bit with those among us who are up to our eyeballs in making the case for analytics:
"Baseball keeps copious records, and people talk about them and argue about them and think about them a great deal. Why doesn't anybody use them? Why doesn't anybody say, in the face of this contention or that, "Prove it'?"
Which of course is exactly what the A's went off and did.
Now. What if we substituted the words "postsecondary education" for "baseball"?
In education we would need be content with demonstrating tenability at a particular level of significance...but still.
There is a lot to learn here. Things like, letting evidence speak more loudly than opinions. Giving less well funded, smaller competitors a shot at a level playing field by using information as intelligence. Using the information we have at hand to help us compete and succeed.
What? Let the evidence speak for itself? Madness.
Of course, the prospect that Brad Pitt is going to (1) make statistics sexy by (2) showing a real-world example of (3) using data-driven decision-making to (4) completely transform a well respected American institution is making this little ol' quant research analyst do the happy dance.