'Moneyball's' biggest believers? Hint: The entertainment business

Hideki Matsui and Brad Pitt

One of the biggest misconceptions about the book “Moneyball,” the Michael Lewis bestseller about the low-budget Oakland A’s’ pathway to baseball success, is that it was about the triumph of statistical analysis. Now that the book has been turned into a film, with Brad Pitt starring as the A’s iconoclastic General Manager Billy Beane, many critics are making the same mistake, viewing the film as an endorsement of the idea that if you’ve run the numbers long enough at business school, you can use statistics to make smart bets.

But “Moneyball” is really about something even more fundamental: how being an outsider encourages innovation. Beane got the idea of using arcane information like a player’s on-base percentage to build a better baseball club from reading the groundbreaking writing of sabermetrician Bill James. But what Beane grasped was a truth that transcended statistics. As Lewis puts it in the book: “James had something to say to Billy, or any other general manager of a baseball team who had the guts, or the need, to listen: If you challenge the conventional wisdom, you will find ways to do things much better than they are currently done.”

This is something people in the entertainment business discovered nearly a century ago. In fact, the history of the movie, TV and music business is crowded with characters not unlike Beane, restless mavericks whose willingness to embrace new ideas was far more crucial to success than having unlimited financial resources. In other words, if you study the most successful companies in showbiz, they started out looking a lot more like the scrappy Oakland A’s than the

Patrick Goldstein Pop Culture
09/22/2011 18:10


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