The problem with “Ghost Victories” and what they hide about our success

In 1994, the New York Police Department (NYPD) implemented a data collection system called “StatCom.” The software was designed to increase and improve data collection on crime throughout the city so resources could be better allocated to areas of need. Objectives were built out, designed, and communicated in order to measure effectiveness.

It started out with good intentions. Execution was anything but.

Instead of tracking crime better, the department tried to look better. Certain crimes weren’t reported. Other crimes were re-worded so they didn’t look as bad as what they actually were (e.g. rewriting rape as “theft of service”). Data on crime throughout the city, as a result, improved. However, it was not an accurate representation of what was actually going on. 

What they learned is something all coaches need to hear.

In Dan Heath’s best-selling book Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems before they Happen, Heath described the StatCom blunder as an example of a “ghost victory.” The illusion of success makes us believe our interventions were much more successful than they actually were.

Heath described three different examples of ghost victories we should be conscious of when evaluating success. The third should resonate with coaches of all levels.

He said: “There is also a third kind of ghost victory that’s essentially a special case of the second (when short term measures don’t align with the long term mission).

“It occurs when measures become the mission.”

 

 

At Bridge the Gap 2020, Pelotero CEO Bobby Tewksbary warned of the “Crossfitification” of baseball: Achieving certain performance metrics has become the goal, not actually performing in games.

Practice has become the game.

This, in essence, is what Heath was trying to explain. Having achievable measures to track improvement is important, but they are not the ultimate goal. They are a means to mobilize towards the long term mission. Not the mission itself.

This, in a lot of ways, is synonymous to baseball. The goal is not to just perform well in practice. The goal is to perform well in games. How you train influences how you perform. If the metrics you’re selling out for in training (yes, that’s you Hitttrax hero) are hurting your ability to perform in games, you have misaligned interests.

This is critical.

As coaches, we have to be very cognizant of the things we place importance on in our training environment. Trying to set a new tee exit velocity PR might be really fun, but hitting good pitching is really hard. Trying to throw as hard as you can on pulldowns is also enjoyable, but there comes a time and place where you need to throw a baseball without a running start.

If the things you place importance on in training are not transfering to games, you need to re-evaluate what you think is important.

Naval Ravikant, Indian-American entrepreneur and investor, said it best: “When you play stupid games, you win stupid prizes.”

The best way to not win stupid prizes is to not play stupid games.

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