Archive for February, 2012

The legacy of Moneyball continues

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that the Michael Lewis-penned book Moneyball is a favorite of mine.  If the only version of Lewis’s work you’re familiar with is the movie version, I encourage you to seek out the book.  In the name of Hollywood-style drama and simplicity, Brad Pitt’s version took some shortcuts and made some simplifications to both shrink the narrative to a less-mathematically-based story and ramp up the human drama.  That’s not to say I’m not a fan of the movie, too, but Lewis teaches a lot of lessons that the movie doesn’t attempt.

But the story that comes through from both the celluloid and paperbound versions is about outside-the-box thinking; learning to value what others see as disposable.  It’s about finding new ways to determine value and how best to exploit the value you have at your disposal.  And it’s why I find the story of Jim Crowley, the head coach of women’s basketball at St. Bonaventure University in upstate New York such a treat to read about.

The “Bonnies” were not a very good team.  In 2005, they’d completed their fifth straight losing season, and nothing looked to change for the future.  St. Bonaventure couldn’t compete for the top recruits—the ones with the stellar shooting percentage, the leaping ability so prized in basketball, or the physical attributes of size and strength that make college coaches salivate.  So Crowley—after reading Moneyball—started looking at other statistics.  Specifically, he started looking at turnovers.

One of the basic principles of basketball—and of football, for that matter—is that if your opponents don’t have the ball, they can’t score.  So Crowley started looking for recruits who could hold on to the ball.  That meant avoiding a turnover when they found themselves double-teamed or operating in traffic.  The results have been little short of spectacular.  Since introducing his unorthodox recruiting philosophy (and a coaching strategy that stresses maintaining possession and keeping a body between the ball and the basket, without making showboat moves to steal or block shots), the Bonnies have posted a .672 winning percentage, and this year, they cracked the top 25 for the first time in school history, having lost only two games out of 29.  They are poised for an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.  Whether they go deep or not, that is a victory for creative thinking.

Small businesses (and small law firms—a particular interest of mine) face similar challenges.  How do you compete with the big boys, who bring many thousands of dollars of resources to the table?  Sometimes, competing means not competing—at least not directly.  Look for the undervalued asset, and turn it to your advantage, whether that asset is flexibility, experience in a particular area, or personal attributes.  It’s the ultimate lesson of Moneyball, and it applies far beyond the realm of baseball and far beyond sports, itself.

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Don’t trust your chiropractor…at least, in Amarillo

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

The Texas Supreme Court recently granted oral argument in the case of Aaron Felton v. Brock Lovett, D.C., a chiropractic malpractice case where the plaintiff—Felton—suffered a dissection of his vertebral artery, resulting in a stroke, allegedly due to overly rough manipulation by his chiropractor, Lovett.  At trial, Felton asserted three theories of negligence:  (1) that Lovett was too forceful in his manipulation; (2) that Felton was already suffering a dissection when he came to see Lovett, and Lovett should have avoided any manipulation, as a result; and (3) that Lovett failed to inform Felton of the risks and dangers of chiropractic treatment.  The truth of the matter is that the third of these was probably just Felton’s fall-back position.  Informed consent usually is.  But it was also the only ground on which the jury found for him.

On appeal, the Amarillo Court of Appeals noted that “the procedure at bar involved a manipulation of the cervical spine, while the risk consisted of a ruptured or dissected artery as a result of the manipulation.”  It then concentrated its focus on Lovett’s expert’s testimony that stated that “if there is a problem with the vertebral artery,” bad things can happen, dissection being one of them.  The expert also noted that a properly administered adjustment cannot injure a healthy artery.  From this, the Amarillo Court concluded that the injury suffered by Felton was not an inherent risk of chiropractic manipulation.  And that means, Lovett had no duty to disclose it.

But here’s the problem.  Any good physician, any good chiropractor, and, for that matter, any good health care provider asks questions.  They look for what could happen, and they look for what might exist.  They don’t assume that the ideal condition exists.  The Amarillo Court’s opinion discourages a chiropractor (or, for that matter, any other health care provider) from looking beyond the limited boundaries of his own discipline, and it discourages him from looking for the aberration—thinking about the case that doesn’t fit the standard operating procedure.  Felton’s chiropractor dove into a manipulation, apparently without checking the lie of the land.  Lovett assumed everything was “normal”; that there was no possibility of harm because Felton had a healthy artery.  But is that a reasonable assumption?  It seems like a jury felt it wasn’t.  Nevertheless, three judges in Amarillo decided to outvote twelve jurors.  We’ll see what the high court has to say.

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Being principled when you don’t have to…

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

It’s not unusual to see athletes either skirting controversy in the understandable name of good business or suddenly developing principles when the “not guilty” verdict—or plea to a lesser crime—comes in.  So it’s refreshing to see a case like that of Joseph Williams, a junior walk-on for the University of Virginia’s football program.  As of February 23, Williams was in the seventh day of a hunger strike “to protest the economic and social injustices perpetrated by the UVa administration against the vast majority of the University’s service-sector employees.”  In particular, Williams calls out top University administrators who are among the highest-paid state employees in Virginia while noting that hundreds of the University’s contract employees are paid as little as $7.25/hour.  He also calls out the University for moral hypocrisy and calls for a living wage for University employees.

Williams, himself, comes from a difficult background.  By his own account, he grew up as one of four children supported by a single mother and lived in 30 different places—several of them homeless shelters—before graduating high school at age 16.  As a result, it would seem Williams knows a thing or two about living with economic hardship.

Of course, Williams doesn’t have as much at stake as did Michael Jordan when he reportedly commented that “Republicans buy shoes, too.”  But there’s still something nice about seeing a student-athlete—and a football player, in particular—who is willing to tilt at some windmills in the name of his principles.   And it’s nice to see him having principles before he needs them to repair a fractured image.

Tip o’ the hat to Dr. Saturday.

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