TIL2017 – Empathy

Supported by Greenhaven Road Capital, finding value off the beaten path.

This post is part of the TIL2017 Summary Series.

If ideas were trails, this may be the best one I traversed. Let’s use sports.

Athletes and teams have an interesting existence. One hindrance of using player tracking data in sports right now is limited knowledge. Analysts don’t know what play was called which makes it hard to track if a player succeeded. In my notes, this is called the “partial view” and “media bullshit.” Talking heads are paid for entertainment, not accuracy.

Aaron Rodgers agreed to an interview because “When somebody thinks of you a certain way that’s not real or says something about you that’s not true, I … you know, that’s not me…You’re not seeing me the right way.””

The sports media regularly does for this. Andre Agassi said that much of his advertising image was not his idea. His story is closer to a teenage movie star than a gifted athlete. His story is one where you look back and wonder why more didn’t go wrong. Part of Agassi’s friction with the media and culture of tennis was because observers had a partial view.

Richard Jefferson went through something similar before the Olympics. The 2004 (bronze medal) Olympic team was cobbled together at the last moment with the poor coaching fit. People didn’t understand, said Jefferson, the flaccid chemistry of that team.

The partial media view was something John Urshel confronted when he retired from the NFL after a brain damage study was released. There were many stories Urshel said, but all were partial.

Non-athletes face this too. When the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team signed players with bad stats the media became the real pirates. They didn’t get it, or rather, they didn’t have the same data. The executives on the Pirates were prioritizing different stats. While it looked like the players weren’t very good, they were quite good at what the team wanted. This was something Sam Hinkie explained to Ben Falk too.

Empathy begins with humility. I don’t know everything. It continues with curiosity. What else is there to know. It ends unresolved. I can’t know everything.

Empathy is the tree trunk that many other things I learned grow from. It’s required to be different, trust but verify, be curious, external objectivity, situations matter, arguing well, stakeholders, and talking to your customer.

That’s what I learned this year. Thanks for reading.

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