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January 7, 2008

Guitar Hero, Moneyball, and observing behaviors around you

This will be a meandering post of little cohesion.

I got Guitar Hero III for my birthday. I've got some pretty decent skills on the Medium category, but my skills don't even come close to this kid's skills.

If you've never played Guitar Hero you may not be impressed, but believe me this kid has got some amazing skills that the vast majority of us do not have. Hand eye coordination to be sure, but also the unbelievable ability to rapidly process information and translate it into action at a mind boggling pace. His brain takes the information and a split second later he can correctly come up with the appropriate movement. Some of us could maybe do this for 10-20 seconds, but this kid can do it for the length of an entire song.

What does this mean? Sure this kid has obviously practiced, but there is little doubt that he has a skill that few of us have. What I want to know is what will this kid do when he gets older? How does this skill translate to the type of person he'll be, and the type of career he'll have? This skill is unique, but a smattering of others like him probably have it. I wish we could identify them and follow them as they get older. The amazing ability to rapidly process information must make this kid more likely to be good at a certain career path. What is it?

How about baseball player?

I just finished the book Moneyball by Michael Lewis. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. It tells the amazing story of using statistical analysis to recognize better who are the best baseball players. The ability to hit a baseball, or better yet, the ability to recognize whether or not a baseball should be hit is another amazing skill that few of us have. Billy Beane and Paul Podesta of the Oakland A's have made it their life's work to find these players: the players that can get hits and maybe more importantly get walks. Because it is the players that can get walks that make the fewest outs, and as we all know, as long as your team is up to bat, as long as you don't have three outs, you can score runs.

It is a simple concept, but apparently a lot of teams have had a hard time coming to grips with it. You see, most baseball teams still believe in the concept of "manufacturing runs." This is partly done by bunting and stealing bases, two activities that greatly increase a team's chances of getting an out. These are two activities that you will hardly ever see the Oakland A's perform. The Oakland A's value the ability to get on base, and as safely as possible round the bases, before almost any other statistical measure. Hits and walks ... if you have the skills to get either, if you have a high "on base percentage," the Oakland A's want you no matter what you look like or how much potential (or lack of) you might have.

I'm probably not doing the book justice, and this is only a part of what the book describes (it also discusses fielding and pitching statistics), but it is this type of revolutionary thinking that have made the Oakland A's so successful. They are taking a look at the game in ways that few people inside of baseball ever have and they are building a very successful low budget team based on these new discoveries.

Since I have read this book I have become enamored with the thought that this kind of thinking can be used in all sorts of fields, from my own field of librarianship, to the job of parenting. Look at this blog entry called What My Kids Tell Me About the Future of Media. This parent just watched the behavior of his kids and came up with some remarkable hypotheses regarding a whole bunch of stuff including his kids' preferences for TV shows over movies, the ubiquity of gaming, the Internet as entertainment, saved music being more popular than radio, and the continued popularity of the printed word in books and magazines (but not newspapers). He then tries to figure out what his observations mean with some interesting conclusions.

To wrap this up, it is this kind of thinking that I'm going to try to train my brain to do this year. What are the hidden truths out there that are just bubbling at the surface waiting to be found? And where can we find the measurement materials to make this kind of thinking possible?

And to bring it back full circle, I think the parents of the Guitar Hero III kid should give him a baseball bat. His ability to quickly determine and act upon a piece of information could make him a hitting and walking machine.

Posted by snackeru at January 7, 2008 7:21 AM


That was the single-handedly most ridiculous thing I've seen. That song is exhausting on easy.

I'm in awe.

Posted by: Dave MN at January 7, 2008 9:41 AM

Nice post, but you missed a fine detail about Moneyball (which you probably got but didn't write about).

Since Oakland doesn't have a lot of revenue compared to the NY's, LA's, Boston and Chicago's et.al of MLB, Billy Beane tries to avoid players with skills that are overvalued in the MLB marketplace and pursue players with those skills that are undervalued. Closers tend to be overvalued so the A's let their closers go, once they are able to command a certain salary. If all of a sudden soft hitting, good fielding infielders were undervalued by the rest of MLB, Beane would be pursuing those players.

Also Oakland can't afford to be wrong about their picks so they stay away from High School players. A college player has a greater pool of data to evaluate, whereas a high school player does not, In essence they are over valued in the eyes of the Athletics.

What does this mean in light of your post? Develop those skills that overvalued in your chosen profession, regardless of the fact that those over valued skills actually make you a better employee.

Posted by: Freealonzo at January 7, 2008 10:34 AM

First off, that video is ridiculous.

Buy low, sell high. That's the A's mantra. Get a bunch of solid, but not spectacular players. Make your 1-9 lineup better top to bottom than the other guys.

Posted by: Cheesehead Craig at January 7, 2008 10:48 AM

Maybe he'll be a Heavy Metal axer? Guitar Hero doesn't translate to real guitar, necessarily, but I think he's displayed a skill set that may translate.

Posted by: Barry Hess at January 7, 2008 11:35 AM

Free, yes, I skirted over these issues. You make some valid points. But I'm not sure I understand completely your last point:

Develop those skills that are overvalued in your chosen profession, regardless of the fact that those over valued skills actually make you a better employee.

Could you clarify?

Posted by: Shane at January 7, 2008 11:35 AM

And yes, Barry, I thought of that too. I wonder how much music stores that give guitar lessons love Guitar Hero ... probably a whole lot. I can imagine there are a lot of Slash wanna-be's out there that have decided to start playing for real based on this game.

Posted by: Shane at January 7, 2008 11:39 AM

Moneyball is really a business book. It describes how a company (a baseball club in this instance) uses metrics to determine which skills in their field are over and undervalued and acts accordingly.

However as an individual you can turn that around. What skills are overvalued in my field and how can I hone or increase them? Politicians understand that voters overvalue cosmetic looks, even though looks plays no role in making them better legislators. Think Norm Coleman and his teeth: Whiter and straighter teeth doesn't make him a better Senator but it may get him more votes from those who may have been repulsed by that mess that used to be in his mouth.

My point is you need to understand what skills your children have that are overvalued and then exploit that overvalueness to ensure that that they are successful.

Posted by: Freealonzo at January 7, 2008 12:47 PM

Your comment about "hidden truths out there that are just bubbling at the surface waiting to be found" made me think about the book "Freakonomics" by Stephen D Levitt. I would imagine that you may have already read the book considering that you are a librarian and all. If you haven't, you should check it out. It certainly tries to be a search for hidden truths. It's basically about taking certain data and trying to find a correlation. In one chapter he tries to draw a correlation between the name of your child and the success your child might have. Of course there are a number of "chicken or the egg" theoretical questions and definitional issues about "success," but I found the book to be quite fascinating.

Posted by: The Rational Actor at January 8, 2008 12:08 AM

First of all, isn't it a little early for you to be getting birthday presents?

Second, read Michael Lewis' Liar's Poker, a book about his experiences as a bond trader. That is an excellent companion to Moneyball.

Posted by: SBG at January 8, 2008 8:53 AM

Heh, yes, you would know how early it is for me to get birthday presents, wouldn't you SBG. Very funny.

The thing with Guitar Hero for the Wii is you have to buy it when you see it. It is in such high demand that my wife wasn't sure it would be on the shelf around my birthday.

I will check out Liar's Poker. Thanks for the suggestion!

And I have read Freakonomics. That was a very thought provoking book. For example, although his reasons for the drop in crime since the 1970s are a little disturbing, I can't argue with the logic.

If anyone else has any suggestions, send them my way!

Posted by: Shane at January 8, 2008 9:16 AM

does guitar hero help in actually playing guitar?

Guitar lessons online

Posted by: mark at January 28, 2008 11:08 AM

This video is amazing, he is really fast. I am awestruck by his skill. It will be very interesting to see what profession he chooses.

Posted by: S W Allen at February 15, 2009 2:30 PM

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