Michael Lewis on the real meaning of his baseball book, “Moneyball”
Michael Lewis: So if you asked me what Moneyball was about, I wouldn’t say baseball. I’d say that it was about... I mean, it happened to be a baseball team that was applying statistics to the valuation of people and coming to new ideas about what people were worth. But it could have been anybody and baseball is just a very clean environment to doing it because the statistics, the numbers are available and the data is pretty clean.
Moneyball was about how people get misvalued and how then in turn warped value systems encouraged warped behavior in people, but primarily about people being misvalued and how a perfectly free market. What market could be freer than a market of professional athletes can completely screw up people’s valuation and there are all these biases that infect the human mind when it’s making intuitive judgments, value judgments especially about other people. We overvalue handsome people. We overvalue tall people.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article on New Yorker a long time ago and there’s this little fact in it that the Oakland Ace loved. And it goes something like this that only 3% of the adult population in America is male and 6 feet or taller. But 50 or 55% of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are male and 6 feet or taller. The Oakland Ace front office read that and thought, “Okay, when we invest money in the stock market, we’re not going to invest in any company that has a CEO who’s male and 6 feet or taller. Because what’s happened is he’s there because he’s male and 6 feet or taller rather than actually knowing what he’s doing. We don’t look for, you know, short, portly, homely CEOs because they’re more likely to know what they’re doing. Moneyball wasn’t so much a prescription for how to succeed as it was as… prescription for, say, how baseball players should succeed as it was as for how someone who’s evaluating other people should go about doing that.
Having said that, I think that it resonated with people because a lot of people feel misappraised, and Wall Street people in particular really resonated with Wall Street people. And I kind of wondered at the time when it came out, it didn’t resonate with Wall Street people because they were in the middle of the single greatest madness of appraisal of human abilities and human contribution in the history of the world. The people are being paid huge sums of money all around them or maybe they themselves are being paid huge sums of money to do things of dubious social utility. So that they could see that this was possible kind of thing, that often when people get paid, makes no sense at all.
Anyway, you asked me for advice for the losers who watch your shows and the only advice that I got to ask. It’s very funny, I get asked for advice all the time after the Liar’s Poker got came out. You know, I was asked advice by every kid in America who wanted to work on Wall Street wrote me and said, “How do I succeed on Wall Street?” And I always kind of come back to the same thing. I have no general advice except this that there is an enormous power to doing what you really care about and the outside world will often try to distract you from what you really care about. It will send you lots of false signals about your value, about what you should be doing, and do your best to ignore those signals. Don’t treat those as commands. And it sounds, you know, to put it in a trite way is follow your passion. But if you’re lucky enough to have passion, passion is unbelievably powerful and pay attention to it.