Those who use numbers to define life frighten me. Especially when they're right.
How, then, might Ed Weiland be feeling this week when his numerical analysis-- one that no one believed-- came true over the last two weeks? Yes, this is man who had a feeling--no, a certainty-- that Linsanity was going to happen.
Should you have been an unusually devoted fan of the Charlotte Bobcats lately, you might not have noticed that the NBA has gone all Lin, all the time.
Jeremy Lin, the Harvard-educated Taiwanese-American, has brought things to the New York Knicks that were in short supply: grace, skill and unselfishness, for example.
No one saw it coming-- certainly not the coaches of my own Golden State Warriors, who tossed him aside this year in the hope of landing someone freakishly tall who could shoot free throws.
Weiland, though, saw things the alleged professionals didn't. He is a 51-year-old FedEx driver who enjoys numbers and basketball. Instead of playing fantasy, he analyzes the truth in digits and then draws conclusions.
When he looked at Lin in 2010, he published his findings on the specialist site Hoops Analyst. It was ignored. This week, according to the Wall Street Journal, the site has been crashing. Indeed, when I just tried to load it, it turned its head away in disgust.
The thing about rational analysis is that you have to know which numbers to look at. In Weiland's case, he saw that Lin's two-point field-goal percentage and his RSB40 (rebounds, steals and blocks per 40 minutes) were as good as those of former greats like Gary Payton, Penny Hardaway and Jason Kidd.
Which led him to write this for Hoops Analyst in 2010: "Jeremy Lin might be the #2 PG available in this draft. If he can get the passing thing down and handle the point, Jeremy Lin is a good enough player to start in the NBA and possibly star."
At that time, Yahoo's PostGame quotes him as writing: "I thought Jeremy Lin would be a good guy to start with, because he's the one player I probably differ on with the rest of the draft pundits by the biggest margin."
Lin was ignored. It can't have helped that he went to Harvard and therefore was in danger of having a brain. But even watching him on the Warriors, one had a sense of someone desperately trying to please confused coaches rather than playing his own game.
Even in businesses where numbers are supposed to tell the whole story, it's often the case that everyone looks at the same numbers in order to draw conclusions. New numbers sometimes materialize. For example, the NBA has adopted hockey's plus/minus number in order to suggest that some players have a winning effect on a team.
Yet when someone looks at particular (and seemingly relevant) numbers and offers interpretation, that analysis can be ignored, because those don't seem to be the numbers that hold received wisdom.
With tech companies, the received wisdom is that everything will now be social, so numbers materialize that justify that theory. But could it be that more Ed Weilands are needed in the business world, in order to suggest which numbers might really mean something and which are merely padding for someone's entirely egotistical theory?