Singles not home runs

Watching professional sports, you often see a team that is behind suddenly go into desperation mode. The clock is ticking, so a flailing three pointer is launched from ten feet behind the line. Or the batter suddenly tries to hit the skin off of every pitch.

In reality it’s often not so dire. And trying to catch up in one go will likely doom you to failure. Hence the refrain – heard in many sports, not just baseball – that the way to go is by hitting singles, not home runs.

Just get onto first base. The person behind you will try and get you to second, etc. Go for a two pointer and not a three.

Don’t try to win it in one go. You won’t be the big hero. But you’ve got a better chance of succeeding.

I’ve been thinking about the weight given to big leaps, and in turn the relegation of smaller, safer gains, as I continue to read The Hidden Half.

We need to face the possibility that big influences are not as orderly or consistent as we expect, that the way things turn out is bound less by observable laws, forces or common factors than by the mass of uncommon factors, the jumble of hidden, micro-influences. Our habit of thinking of this as ‘noise’–and then thinking of ‘noise’ in turn as an annoying residual–diminishes one of life’s most magical elements.

Because of course, just as on the playing field, the heroes of academia and intellect are the ones who make the big play, not the tinkerers and exception finders.

But so often these big leaps wind up in incongruencies or pale in significance to the influence of smaller ones.

It’s not as sexy, but perhaps we should be emphasising something else – singles, not home runs.

We dream of laws and general truths; the practicality is often a patchwork of unexpected anomalies. Run with these ideas, apply them more widely, and you begin to conceive a world bustling with powerful but enigmatic differences that we just don’t see.

As always my emphasis.