Confidence and the Lottery

I read a blog by Seth Godin on the subject.

“It doesn’t matter how sure you are that this is a winning ticket, the ticket doesn’t care,” he says. Why not? You put emotional effort into picking the right numbers! You’re sure these are the magic numbers that will get you those millions of dollars. You do research to figure out the numbers that come up the most in winning tickets, where they’re purchased, how big a batch of tickets to buy… You’ve expended mental effort and physical effort to get the numbers just right. Then some random number generator picks the numbers.

I used to play a lot of MMORPG on the computer. I tend to go with the city-building types but after you build your city, you get attacked by 1 million scouts who take out your archers, and the lookouts on the walls never see 1 million scouts coming over the horizon…

ANYWAY, if you built the required materials and did all the right things in the right order, you would get “drops” of needed materials based on a random number generator. They would post the odds of you getting said item. Now, being a student of statistics, you would assume that if you had a 1 in 2 chance, after 100 tries you’d have basically 50 positive and 50 negative results. If you have a 1 in 20 chance, Out of 100 tries, you’d have about 5 positive and 95 negative results. In this game, however, if you had a 1 in 20 chance, out of 10,000,000,000,000,000 tries, you’d have 0 positive results. Don’t ask me how I know this… So why was this? Were they lying? If you look at it from a different perspective, you had a 19/20 chance of getting a negative result, so that’s what you got 100% of the time.

The odds of getting all the numbers in the lottery are much smaller than that. You’re more likely to get bitten by a shark in the middle of Kansas than win the lottery. Why? Because your actions have very little to do with the outcome.

Seth mentions that there’s a 15-year-old boy whose 10-year plan is to get into the NBA. He also says that the strength and skill needed to get down to the last 5000 applicants is important, but after that, it’s just a lottery and you better have a plan B. There are physical attributes that would enhance your chances like being 6’8 or better, and a 90% from the free-throw line wouldn’t be a bad thing. But what if you’re short?

Obviously, skill and accuracy are important when you’re not 7′ tall. Spud Webb, #3 on the list, also had a 46″ vertical jump!

When you look at the draft, being at the right place at the right time with the right skills and a good agent are good. So what are the right places and the right times and the right skills?

1. You have to be on a college team that has scouts coming in to check out the players
2. You have to be good enough to stand out from your fellow players
3. But you also have to be good enough to enhance the team and not just yourself