Occupation =/= Success Level

One of the lessons of the book Moneyball is that no matter how many baseball statistics you can track there are still some things that cannot be predicted.

You can know, for example, that based on his past performance that a player will draw certain number of walks each season. This is one statistic that generally does not waver much from year to year for each player. But even if you know a player will walk in 20% of his plate appearances, you cannot predict when these walks will occur. Will it be with the bases loaded, late in a tie game? Or with two outs, and the bases empty in the bottom of the fourth inning?

When these things occur, is referred to as a very scientific term: luck.

So even though systems have been developed that calculate how many games a team will win over a season—systems that are very often accurate—they cannot predict when the games will be won. Winning every other day for ten days results in the same record as five consecutive wins followed by five consecutive losses.

What the Oakland A’s front office set out to do, was to make sure they were on the right track. This was not done by tracking the outcome, but the input. They were so confident in their calculations, they knew that if they kept doing X it would result in Y.

Pitchers, it was found, have limited control over whether or not their pitches that are hit find their way into a fielder’s glove or not—whether they become outs or hits. What pitchers do have more control over is the number of batters they walk or strikeout, among a few other things. Therefore, as long as pitchers are maintaining the level of strikeouts and walks that gave them success in the past, it is not fair to blame them for giving up a lot of hits—it’s not their fault, it’s luck.

The author Alain de Botton says that what people do for a living is much the same way. If you have ten people who are equally skilled at the same thing, it is unlikely that all ten of them will end up with a job doing that thing. And even if they do, it is even less likely that they will all take a career path that will lead them to success, pay them a good salary, and continue to challenge them. In other words, if you have a job you do not like, it may not be your fault.

Judging people then, based on their job or their career, based on the outcome of their actions in life to that point may not really be fair. There are things out of your control. Even if people do not like to admit it, says former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, the world is “large, random, and uncaring.”

Success then, should be seen in the input, not the outcome. As John Wooden defined it, “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”

Having said that, it probably would not be a good thing to throw up your hands and leave your fate up to luck, but rather keep your nose to the grindstone. Keep a high level of input. Because even though the Oakland A’s have not achieved their ultimate goal, they have never thrown up their hands and left it to fate. They kept on making sure the input was strong, and in doing so have won many more games for a lot less money than anybody imagined would be possible. And in doing so, they have proven themselves to be correct. And that sounds like success to me.


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