Leaders of Men

Link post

Re­lated to (Eliezer Yud­kowsky): Inad­e­quacy and Modesty

Epistemic Sta­tus: Con­fi­dent. No sports knowl­edge re­quired.

In 2005, Willie Ran­dolph be­came man­ager of the New York Mets.

In his first five games as man­ager, all of which he lost, Willie made more de­ci­sions wrong than I thought pos­si­ble. If he needed to change pitch­ers, he waited. Other times he changed pitch­ers for no rea­son. Start­ing line­ups made zero sense. Po­si­tion play­ers bunted. And so on. He cost us at least one of those games. My friend Seth and called for Willie’s head.

He would go on to an ex­cel­lent 97 win sea­son in 2006, come in sec­ond in man­ager-of-the-year vot­ing, get a con­tract ex­ten­sion, and only get fired af­ter wear­ing out our start­ing pitch­ers so much that we ex­pe­rienced one of the most epic late sea­son col­lapses in base­ball his­tory in 2007, fol­lowed by a hor­rible 2008.

Willie’s in-game de­ci­sions did not im­prove. If any­thing, they got worse.

De­spite this, we came to un­der­stand why Willie got and kept his job.

Willie Ran­dolph was a leader of men.

Play­ers liked Willie. They wanted to play for him, work hard for him, be the best they could be. They put the team first. He cre­ated a pos­i­tive club­house at­mo­sphere. He in­spired good perfor­mances, spot­ted ways play­ers could im­prove.

That is what counts.

Do bad in-game de­ci­sions cost games? Ab­solutely. But not that many games. Maybe they lose you 4 a year out of 162.

If the lineup makes your play­ers un­happy, that costs a lot more. If your pitch­ers lose mo­ti­va­tion or have their rhythms dis­rupted, that mat­ters more than get­ting high lev­er­age for your best re­liever. Maybe bunting in­spires team unity. The rea­son we hate bunting so much isn’t be­cause it’s a huge mis­take. It’s an ob­vi­ous mis­take. A pure mis­take. An ar­ith­metic er­ror.

Plenty of peo­ple could get those tech­ni­cal de­ci­sions right. I could do it.

What most of us can’t do is lead men. Lead­ing men is what counts. That’s the real job, but it comes with these other tasks.

Some­times these other tasks land in good hands, at other times they land in ter­rible hands. Those who do the lit­tle things right do suc­ceed more, but you can still win cham­pi­onships with­out them. If you can lead men.

Other sports fol­low the pat­tern. Why do foot­ball teams em­ploy Andy Reid, who could not man­age a two-minute drill if his life de­pended on it? Why do highly suc­cess­ful bas­ket­ball play­ers re­fuse to co­op­er­ate with their team­mates or prac­tice key skills?

Be­cause those are small mis­takes. The things those peo­ple do right mat­ter more.

Could Willie Ran­dolph hire some­one to micro­man­age the game? Could Andy Reid hire some­one to man­age his two minute drills?

No. The peo­ple who are ca­pa­ble of that, are not lead­ers of men, and how they make those de­ci­sions is part of how they lead men.

Even if you could do that, fix­ing such penny-ante prob­lems is too dis­rup­tive. You want their eyes on the prize.

This gen­er­al­izes.

If a po­si­tion calls for a leader of men, you of­ten find a leader of men. If it re­quires su­per high lev­els of an­other skill, whether it’s cod­ing, rais­ing money, lift­ing weights, in­tri­cate chem­istry or prov­ing the­o­rems, you’ll find that. How­ever, if you need rare lev­els of such skills com­pared to what you can offer, you won’t se­lect for any­thing else. You can’t de­mand or­di­nary com­pe­tence in in­suffi­ciently im­por­tant ar­eas. There aren’t enough qual­ified ap­pli­cants. Plus it wouldn’t be worth the dis­trac­tion.

This helps ex­plain why peo­ple in unique po­si­tions are of­ten uniquely ter­rible. They’re not re­place­able. Some in­com­pe­tence and shenani­gans are ac­cept­able, so long as they de­liver the goods.

The same goes for other groups, or­ga­ni­za­tions, re­li­gions, soft­ware and most any­thing else.

If a sys­tem has unique big ad­van­tages, they’re not effec­tively com­pet­ing on less big things. They might be op­ti­miz­ing small things, but they don’t have to, so you can’t as­sume such things are op­ti­mized at all. Even when a sys­tem does not have unique ad­van­tages, any­thing in­suffi­ciently cen­tral is likely not op­ti­mized be­cause it’s not wor­thy of at­ten­tion.

It is much, much eas­ier to pick out a way in which a sys­tem is sub-op­ti­mal, than it is to im­ple­ment or run that sys­tem at any­thing like its cur­rent level of op­ti­miza­tion.

Thus I gen­er­ally be­lieve the fol­low­ing two things:

It is rel­a­tively easy to find ways in which al­most any­thing could be im­proved on the mar­gin, were one able to im­ple­ment iso­lated changes. Well thought-out such ideas are of­ten cor­rect.

and also

The per­son mak­ing such a cor­rect sug­ges­tion would likely be hope­lessly lost try­ing to im­ple­ment this change let alone run­ning the rele­vant sys­tems.