If asked to list the top athletes ever, Michael Jordan is a clear contender… as a basketball player.
However, his time switching from basketball to playing baseball at the top of his career after winning three NBA championships isn’t often discussed. Prompted by the tragic murder of his father (who once hoped he would play baseball rather than basketball) Michael Jordan quit basketball and played baseball in 1994 for a year for the Birmingham Barons, a Minor League Team that fed into the Chicago White Sox and his stats, as an outfielder though not stellar, were competitive, including 3 home runs.
So what, if anything, can be learned from this episode?
- Taking risks breeds success. Jordan was an exceptional athlete, but constantly looked to improve and wasn’t scared of failure. (It’s also telling that after switching to baseball, he went back to basketball and won another 3 championships)
- Just because you’re exceptionally good at something doesn’t make it consistently interesting.
- Skills are at least moderately transferable, Jordan had to work hard to train at baseball but was competitive within the Minor Leagues.
Economics generally assumes people are rational. Given the information people have they’ll make the best decisions, in a Dr Spock like fashion. It’s an ok approach, but not a great one.
One of the more interesting challenges to this model is something called path dependence. This means that the world is shaped by not just what’s the right decision for people right now, but what has gone before. There are some of good examples of this:
The QWERTY keyboard is one example, originally designed to stop keys sticking on prototype typewriters it’s now being used on touchscreens on iPads where there aren’t even any actual keys. Other keyboard types are proven to be superior, such as Dvorak, but they are not broadly used – the move away from physical keyboards to on screen ones should make switching even easier, but nothing has changed yet.
photo: Jack Keene
There’s a good paper on path dependence here if you’re interested in learning more about it.
The question is this, on your projects, how many things are done because they’ve always been done that way?
The USDA recently changed their dietary guidelines introducing the food plate (below) to replace the food pyramid (further below).
It’s a good example of cleaning up a report and removing superfluous information (servings, category detail) to create a clearer message and using clearer a metaphor (plate rather than pyramid) to tell the message. Not exactly clear why dairy gets it’s own circle, or if the colors imply anything, but still it’s a vast improvement in the ongoing losing battle against obesity, though innovation continues.
A great example of saying less and communicating more.
(And a lot better than some other government reporting efforts)
Nice chart based on Barry Boehm’s book on Software Economics, shows us the value of fixing problems early in projects, the costs of fixing problems at least doubles at each stage of the process, and become even larger when the results are in operation. The data is based on software projects. This is intuitive, but it’s worth remembering just how much the costs can rise.