Sunday, October 2, 2011

Engineering Moneyball

I had the opportunity to see the movie Moneyball a couple of weeks ago.  Good movie based on a great book by Michael Lewis.  It is not just a great sport's book - - it is a great business book.  The New York Times today discussed the movie and book (When Data Guys Triumph) in terms of the broad business and social impact both have and are having.  Consider the points in the article and the interface with engineering and the role of engineers in society.
  • The basics of Moneyball are simple - - the foundation is the creative use of data.
  • Moneyball isn't about baseball or statistics.  Rather, it's about challenging conventional wisdom with data.  Engineers are trained empirical evangelists - - we also have the ability and responsibility to be challengers of the conventional with hard data.  Almost all engineers and engineering managers have a little Bill James or Billy Beane in them - - or they should.
  • Engineering Moneyball should look to other problems and opportunities - - from web analytics to behavioral economics to health care reform to technology. 
  • Moneyball and engineering are the same thing - - a reliance on data to exploit inefficiencies, allocate resources and challenge conventional wisdom.  Our future is full of Moneyball-type problems - - energy transformation, sustainability, climate change, etc.  Even how city hall is managed has a huge Moneyball potential.
  • Engineering and the Oakland A's face a similar issue in the context of Moneyball.  The road from modeling problems to influencing organizational decisions is a long one.  This is especially true for those engineers working in and for the public sector - - analysts don't even have a seat at the table.  Generation Moneyball is not yet in charge of city hall.  But remember the words of Max Planck - - "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."
As you watch post-season baseball, remember that engineers are the original Moneyball profession and that we have a very bright Moneyball future.

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