In the Big Data era, numbers tell the story

“My job,” says Michael Lewis, “is to come in after the war is over and shoot the wounded.”

That sounds about right. Lewis swooped in following Wall Street’s shenanigans of the late 1980s and 2000s and wrote such classics as Liar’s Poker, The Big Short, Flash Boys, Panic, and Boomerang.

There’s no doubt that “shooting the wounded” has been good to Lewis, but that’s an overly simplistic take on his talents. The best-selling author takes some of the most complex financial and economic topics on the planet and explains them in simple, entertaining, and easy-to-understand terms — and sells a ton of books in the process.

It wasn’t finance or economics that took center stage during Lewis’s appearance at Oracle’s Modern Finance Experience in Chicago, though — it was baseball.

Lewis spent much of his interview speaking about his best-seller Moneyball and how it relates to today’s data-driven business world.

Moneyball, you’ll remember, is the story of the Oakland A’s of the early 2000s, a small-market team that couldn’t compete for high-priced talent with the likes of cash-rich teams in baseball’s biggest markets. Instead, the team’s general manager, Billy Beane, turned to analytics and hard data to find highly productive players at bottom-of-the-barrel prices. The result: The A’s made the playoffs in 2002 and 2003 with a fraction of the payroll of larger-market teams like the New York Yankees. In short order, nearly every team in the league was using Beane’s data-driven strategies to evaluate talent.

There are a lot of parallels between Moneyball and today’s Big Data environment, Lewis said. Here are some of them:

Anyway you look at it, Moneyball is a parable for the importance and strategic use of business data.

In an era of Big Data dominance, it’s one we all should take to heart.


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