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?

RankPlayerHeightNBA playing career
1.Muggsy Bogues5-31987-2001
2.Early Boykins5-51998-2012
3.Spud Webb5-61985-98
 Mel Hirsch5-61946-47
5.Greg Grant5-71989-96
 Keith Jennings5-71992-95
 Red Klotz5-71947-48
 Wataru Misaka5-71947-48
 Monte Towe5-71976-77
10.Dino Martin5-81946-48
 Willie Somerset5-81965-66
 Charlie Criss5-81977-86
In case you were wondering

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
  4. You’d also have to spend every waking minute improving your jump height, your strength, your endurance, and your agility with the basketball (shooting, dribbling, passing)
  5. You have to have good enough grades so you don’t flunk out of college before you get noticed.

So for someone who wants to spend the next 10 years preparing for the NBA, there are steps to prepare to be noticed in college, noticed in high school, in basketball camps, and by influential coaches who can help you improve just to get to the platform where you can compete. Can you do this in the lottery? Nope. If, however, you are cursed by bad genes to be short, you may not even get a glance. HOWEVER, this does not preclude you from being a coach in the NBA, an announcer, or a referee.

The difference between the lottery and any goal you have is that with the lottery, you have no control over the outcome. What lotteries do you contend with? Tax audits? the Stock Market? Your health roll against a red dragon in Dungeon and Dragons? If you are smart, you have many alternative plans because the one thing you do NOT have control over is the subjective opinions of those scouts. Just like you have no control over the administrators that are looking to hire you as a teacher, or the HRs that think some people should be relegated to grabbing coffee for the real businessmen in the room. Doesn’t your whole livelihood depend on the subjective behavior of the people you work for or those you serve as an entrepreneur? All the world’s a Lottery and men and women but ticket scratchers. (Sorry Will) But make your plans and set your goals anyway, just don’t get attached to a particular outcome. It’s not the goal that makes the man, but the journey–It’s what you need to become to be worthy of it.

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