Sunday, November 12, 2006

From Moneyball to The Blind Side: The educational gospel according to Michael Lewis

Michael LewisMichael Lewis, as I have said on Jurisdynamics, is America's best writer on business and entrepreneurship. Of late he has applied his craft to sports, which improves his sales but perhaps at some cost to his reputation as an observer of for-profit creativity. Moreover, Lewis has shifted his focus from baseball to football, a highly popular sport that has never won the adulation of the elite. (It is not altogether inappropriate to think of the National Football League as a civilian analogue of the United States Marine Corps. White-collar managers would do well to emulate these organizations' embrace and embodiment of blue-collar values.) The failure to appreciate Lewis as one of the most astute observers of entrepreneurship is a shame, because law schools and universities could do much, much worse than to follow the educational gospel according to Michael Lewis.

The publication of Matt Bodie's PrawfsBlawg post on The Blind Side, Lewis's latest book, presents the ideal moment for proclaiming a Lewis-inspired theory of academic administration, or at least that portion of academic administration that depends on the discovery and evaluation of talent. In his musings on The Blind Side, Matt concludes that "The Blind Side seems to be the opposite of Moneyball":
Instead of looking at the numbers, look for the raw talent and then develop that talent. Oher would not have been found if college coaches poured through the statistics of high school students and took the best performers. The approach disparaged in Moneyball -- looking at a player to see if he "looked" like a good baseball player -- was the approach that discovered Michael Oher.
I believe that Matt misinterprets The Blind Side and its relationship to Moneyball. The two books hinge less on the use of specific evaluative strategies (number-crunching versus imagining how closely a ballplayer fits a preconceived "body type") and more on the adaptation of evaluative methodology to rapid changes in a game, or in any other field of productive enterprise. David Schleicher's commentary on Matt's PrawfsBlawg post is squarely on target:
Moneyball is about talent evaluation and business decision-making in a static market and shows how tradition can hinder the efficiency of markets. The Blind Side is about business decision-making in a dynamic market and shows how entreprenuers have to take unconventional approaches to discovering talent (or market opportunities).
Alas, David declines to speculate on the lessons that law schools might extract from Moneyball and The Blind Side. As to the question of "what this grand unified theory of Michael Lewis sports books has to do with law schools," David confesses, "I have no idea."
TouchdownFrom Moneyball to The Blind Side:

The educational gospel according to Michael Lewis

A MoneyLaw series
Well, if I may be so bold to say so, I do. The work of Michael Lewis provided much of the inspiration for MoneyLaw. Indeed, insights I attribute to Lewis have informed my admittedly brief and modest career in educational administration. This post hereby inaugurates a series in which I will explain what I've learned from Michael Lewis's writing on the business of baseball and football -- including but not limited to Moneyball and The Blind Side -- and how those lessons inform my view of the art and evolution of the managerial enterprise in academia.


Anonymous Adam said...

"The work of Michael Lewis provided much of the inspiration for MoneyLaw."

Surely, that is the understatement of the year.

11/16/2006 11:28 AM  

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