The 2014 MLB Hall of Fame Class

There are moments you experience as a sports fan that you’re not sure will be equaled for future fans. Most of these happen on the field, court, pitch, etc.. and some don’t.

Today saw one of those moments — with six new inductees into Baseball’s Hall of Fame. New inductees are ushered in each year, but this year was something special. The six newcomers, three players and three coaches, represent one of the most talented classes ever to come in together. But what makes it special is the class of the six.

For me, these were the names that made me a fan. These were the names of my childhood. The cards I traded. The all-star games I watched. Not just these three, of course, but the others — the all-stars that these three played along with — have become tainted since that time. Steroids, of course, are the scar on the face of late-20th century baseball. These are its pure souls gone to baseball heaven.

There aren’t many of these kinds. The players who dominated, ostensibly, on pure skill while their peers used performance enhancers. It brings a smile to my face remembering Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine mowing down the juiced up hitters of those days (even when it was Sosa, my team’s ‘stud’). They did it with skill. Never overpowering. Never elevating tempers. Skill, precision, talent. Their manager knew precisely how to use that skill, too, and for that reason Bobby Cox was inducted today with them.

And then there was the Big Hurt. A slugger in an era of mega-sluggers. Without steroids, Thomas may have been the premier power hitter of the 90s. He was still up there. He still put up HOF numbers. He was an MVP. He should have had several. His name doesn’t deserve to be outshadowed by Bonds, McGuire and Sosa. He was of their ilk, just not of their morality.

It’s simple: sports isn’t a stage that requires class acts. It doesn’t have to be. We like our athletes for what they do on the field. We forgive, all too easily (cough Ray Rice cough cough cough) when they act immaturely and should poison our perceptions. This group didn’t put us in that doubtful position.

Look no further than Joe Torre’s remarks today. If this doesn’t sum up a great man’s life in baseball, I don’t know what would. You can sense his deep and emanating respect for the game — and his gratitude for the success he was allowed in it.

Torre: “Baseball is a game of life. It’s not perfect, but it feels like it is,” said the 74-year-old Torre, who apologized afterward for forgetting to include the Steinbrenner family in his speech. “That’s the magic of it. We are responsible for giving it the respect it deserves. Our sport is part of the American soul, and it’s ours to borrow — just for a while.”

“If all of us who love baseball and are doing our jobs, then those who get the game from us will be as proud to be a part of it as we were. And we are. This game is a gift, and I am humbled, very humbled, to accept its greatest honor.”

Cheers to this class of men. Thanks for the memories, gentlemen.

Waxing [cinematically]: Boyhood

It’s been five full days since I saw Richard Linklater’s new movie ‘Boyhood’. I’ve thought about it multiple times in each of those days since.

In writing this, I’m almost more consumed by my thoughts of the last week than the movie itself. The truth is, the move is so beautifully presented, so swift in its movement in a young boy’s growth, that you forget some of the earlier scenes. In a coming-of-age story, everything replaces itself. There isn’t a current state of affairs you can harken back to.

It reminded me, somewhat, of reading Garp, and trying to remember those first few chapters where you got to know this new person. What was he like back then? Could we have seen things coming that happened later?

Boyhood wasn’t so literary and it wasn’t as long as a true novel. Instead, Linklater employed a pastiche-ing strategy, at least at the start. Twelve (12) clips of 10-15 minutes, comprising a boy’s formative years. Comes together to make a movie.

He didn’t ultimately go with that. Some years are more dynamic than others. The mother’s (Patricia Arquette) story needed its time to breathe. The father (Ethan Hawke) drew watchers in too and required time. We saw him become exactly the type of guy that his first love wanted — and it was so fulfilling see that self-actualization actually make it into the film (in one of the final scenes).

It turns out, the pastiching was more than just the formatting of the movie. And I can’t say that without thinking of the ‘Before’ trilogy. In those, we had a twist of sorts — a bare-bones romantic engagement that the audience was invited into. And with that close-up intimacy, we’re allowed into an intimacy among the characters (Hawke and Julia Delpy).

Much the same, here, we see Linklater do something to the form=function equation which is really higher than mastery. It’s a special thing to see — and a special see to be a part of in the current.

In ‘Boyhood’, we see pastiching of moments come together to tell the story. And guess what the film itself stands on the laurels of — moments coming together to make up a whole. It’s an integral moment of the movie (you’ll know what I mean once you’ve seen it) and a true lesson that our characters learn. Not just Mason (played over 12 years by Ellar Coltrane), but his surrounding family as well.

Aside from that, as a viewer it was a welcome party to a journey of sorts. You can sense that over a dozen years these characters have grown together — professionally, personally, in regards to attachment of the story, etc… That was truly a joy.

Boyhood was the best reviewed movie I’ve seen. I knew it was a critic’s darling before I saw it. It’s hard to believe that it would live up to that hype. But it did. There aren’t holes worth tearing apart. It was shot beautifully, written sentimentally, and made whole by moments of acting prowess.

An absolute must see.

Why People Need Poetry (Stephen Burt’s TED Talk)

I’ve actually said before that this would be a TED talk I’d give. It’s a simple idea that I find to be truth — poetry would help us as a people understand our world, our selves, and our capability to produce and find beauty.

I would’ve used different poems, but Burt does a good job breaking down the wall of answering the ‘what does this mean’ question. It can mean whatever you’d like. He’ll show you how a critic might interpret a poem, but ultimately that’s not the point.

Just as we use music to inform, increase or unlock our feelings, poetry too sits on a mountain waiting to be discovered. Our schools have done a poor job of keeping it as a pillar in a curriculum, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less effective.

Click the picture below to hear the TED talk!

burt poetry ted talk

Let’s Stop Evaluating on Averages When the Mode Means More.

Original Post [Medium]


Full post:

There are times I watch my sister — a 5th grader — mull about the world and I marvel at her energy. She bounces around, she sits, runs, does twirling back-handstands off the couch onto the ground, plays games, plays the Viola, does her homework…etc. She has the capacity to do, variously, in one hour what I can in a day. Sometimes, it feels like there are five of her around me.

And while that youthful energy astounds me, there’s something else I wonder sometimes. How could her teachers possibly center in on the real her?

Looked at another way, youthful energy is just another way of describingmassive inconsistency.

And we all have that. Days where we swear we aren’t ourselves. We feel like our minds somewhere else. Or the work we produced is unrecognizable weeks later. “That’s not me,” you say some foggy mornings. And you mean it.

And yet, from basic education on up to corporate education, we’re evaluated in a way that suggests all of these inconsistencies tell the story of who we are. You take Geometry and you get a ‘B’. You bust yourself for sales one quarter and you earn a 91 on your employee report.

These are the final demarcations of your actions for a period of time. This ‘B’ represents your knowledge of that semester’s Geometry cirriculum.

But there was always that one section in Geometry you really got. And that one section you never did. You aced one test but failed another….One month of your quarter you killed it. The other was bleak. It’s been like this —this pitter patter of performance— for decades now.

And we’re grading as such. On averages. What all of these wavering scores equal out to when added up and divided by the # of evaluating presences.

This average is allegedly our story. Who we are. How we perform.

And yet what that gives you is a number that you never really are. It’s a balancing act, but it’s not your common state. It’s a number that tries to describe who you are, by not describing who you are.

And it’s doing us no favors.

We started this whole thing with an assumption:

Scoring things on a percentage scale should give us meaningful data. That the % you score at is the % you attained of perfection.

But that assumption has led us awry. It supposes that we could be described in this range somewhere, and that, in that description, it could prescribe us a marker. But we’ve seen that with averages, this marker is incomplete.

Wouldn’t you rather, on a scale that demarcates your approach of perfection, know where you stand on a consistent basis?

Isn’t the whole point to prescribe a reality? To understand a being and their place?

Who you are is not who you never are. It’s who you are most of the time. Who we expect, and, yes, might not always get, but when we aren’t getting this “you” it’s our perception of missing that consistency.

Anecdotally, have you ever tried to score something consistently on a 1-10 or or 1-100 rating. Chances are, if you have, you’ve discovered something peculiar. Most of your grades come out to fit inside much smaller range.

Take IMDB movie ratings, for example. Each movie on there is scored on a 1-10 scale by viewers and users. The top-rated movie is the The Shawshank Redemption. Great flick. My favorite movie of all time —City of God— comes in right after. They both scored a 9.2 from user voters.

And, yet, the stunningly underwhelming 1999 feature Forces of Nature with Ben Affleck and Sandra Bullock (which you may find yourself watching at 3am on Comedy Central on lowly Tuesday nights) has a rating of 5.3.

Now, I’m more than willing to bow to the “voting effect” (in which people that like the movie are more likely to vote and vote high), but still. We’re talking the difference between a masterpiece and a flop at only 3.9 points. Less than 40% of a difference on the scale.

The same is true in our education system. An A+ is a 100, right? But an F is anything less than, usually, 60%. Again, 40% differential between the best you can do and the “rest”. And then you have the drop-off where, in this system, a 12% is the same as a 51%, bell curve not involved.

This is bad. This is, quite simply, a lazy way to tell the story.

And yet this is what we permeate and perpetrate. A’s through F’s.

Here’s another one:

Margaret is a student. She takes five tests throughout the course (sounds familiar from your University days, right?). She scores a 92%, another 91%, a 87%, 80% and then, and then, on her last exam, she gets a 40%.

What’s her average? Well, if all is weighted equally, it’s a 78%. Person A scored a C+.

But Margaret’s work in the class suggests much more than a C+. She aced two tests and nearly a third.

We’ve seen this. And if we haven’t seen it, certainly we’ve been riddled by fear of it.

Average-based grading systems both take into account the extreme examples (of both poor performance and stellar), and forget about them completely in the name of finding a middle ground.

So as an evaluator, you’re seeing inconsistencies play into a score without even being able to recognize the inconsistencies.

Consistency is how you evaluate things in your own life. Take your car for example.

If your car gave you a different output each day, even if it was mostly on the positive side, you’d go a bit crazy. Not knowing is an enormous human fear. Not being able to count on something we utilize is tough. Really, really tough. Say your car is an all-star 25% of the time, decent and average another 40%, and the other 35% it broke down, leaked, etc…you’d start slamming your hand on the dash.

But, it’d still average out to being okay. It’d still, by average, be a “good car”. Well, a good used car.

What you ask for when buying something is consistency. What is this product going to give me day and day out.

Same with a person who works with you, for you, or above you. It’s not going to win anyone over if you say Tom is uber-productive on Tuesdays and the rest of the week, well who knows. You can’t rely on Tom in a standard environment. [And that is what I’m going for here: standard environments. The education system, for instance, I’d like to see to measure on this rather than just total output or a ROWE type assessment]

I’ll take the Tom that I can measure accurately. As a teacher, I can see where he is and work with him on improving. But without knowing where he’s at, well, it makes that latter part nearly impossible.

I’m in a position where part of my job is to evaluate people. My team wanted to bring some objectivity into our evaluation systems and for a while we used a 1-10 system.

Guess what we found? 90% of scores were between 6-8. Worse, a rare “4/10″ on a task could bring an average down egregiously. The stray and inconsistent “10″ made candidates appear better than they were.

One day, I happened to meet an old teacher from my high school. He told me of a new grading system he was implementing that was loosely based off another teacher’s idea on an “evidence-based” assessment system for grading.

It struck a chord in me. It made more sense than 1-10, more than A’s, B’s and F’s.

So we adapted it. We use a 1-4 system now. No “.5’s” allowed. You have to pick 1, 2, 3 or 4.

We look in three different verticals for each evaluation. Each vertical gets a 1-4.

From there, we use a “Double Mode” system.

The mode, for those that can’t quite bring that to the front of the mind, is the most common number.

The mode is, in short, the measure of consistency instead of amalgamating inconsistency as an average does.

We find Mode1 — the most common number. And then we find Mode2—the second most common. Together, these give us our score and paint our picture.

This is how this person performs most of the time. And that information is greatly more important to know than where work averages out to.

We’re working on telling a story by prescribing a consistency to our people. It’s working so far and we can read into those we’re evaluating so much more fully than before (with averages).

It begs the larger question. In our wide systems — education, employee evaluation, etc..— why strive to paint an incomplete picture. Just because it’s easier?

Let’s ditch the system and work a la mode.

2013: in Review

Is it fair to label something as a paradox? It seems all one need do is find an occasion and search for a way in which it opposed something else. Meaning that, unless life flows peacefully along in a smooth consequence of evolution, everything is paradoxical.

This is especially true if that thing in examination is an entire year.

And, yet, it has not left the warm library of the mind: 2013 was a year of paradoxes for me.

I don’t want to stretch the metaphor into uselessness but in my mind the paradoxes are as follows: this was the healthiest year of my life, yet I faced my worst bodily injury. My employment situation was the most stable, yet my location was as unstable as it gets. I, for really the first time, did something new with my hair, then cut it all off (for good). I wrote more in 2013 than in 2012, but with my Macbook crashing, I lost almost everything I had written up until November. So, more words, less that remain.

I’m sure there’s more, but again I don’t want to batter the metaphor down to a pulp. 2013 is and soon will be a was. And what it was was an interesting year. I traveled to 5 different countries — 14 states (quick count) and countless airports. With the exception of some convalescence time in the suburbs of Chicago, I didn’t stay in one place ever for longer than three weeks.

2013 was on the move. Always.

Places I stayed for at least a night: Buffalo Grove, New York City, Martha’s Vineyard, Philadelphia, Washington DC, New York City, Chicago, Madison, Austin, Las Vegas, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Portland, Eugene, Vancouver, Santiago, Valparaiso, Cordoba, Buenos Aires, Playas del Coco, Nuevo Arenal…..

Professionally: moved into the Head of Learning at Zirtual. Built a team around that. Worked with more Big Buddies, certified 100+ ZAs, continued to evolve our education program. Really great stuff, all fueled by my passion which makes working so much easier.

Relationships: got to spend a solid block of time (3 months) with my family which was great. Asidfe from being a relaxing time, it was great to slow things down and spend some quality time with them. All the traveling can get in the way of that sometimes…..Friendships were kept and new ones were formed. I think 2014 will be a year I really try hard to keep my relationships solid. To really put myself into them — I don’t know what form that becomes, so we’ll have to see.

What else?

Check out my full 2013 in Review post here!