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The digital revolutions

August 19, 2013

The Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg

Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg
in “The Social Network”

In my DVD binge of late, I watched two movies that have been on my list for some time: “The Social Network” and “Moneyball.” (I plan to read the books behind both flicks, too.)

We live in historic times, witnesses to two kinds of revolutions that affect how we work and live. These movies show the origins of these world-changing concepts, and coincidentally, feature Aaron Sorkin as screenwriter.

“The Social Network” gives the background on the founding of Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg’s rise to world’s youngest billionaire. We see how the gifted Harvard student figured out the psychology behind social connections (online and offline) through flashbacks from two deposition hearings.

Facebook isn’t the star of the movie but more like the virtual love interest among many jealous and bitter rivals. We don’t examine too closely how it affects the world, just the players fighting for control.

Perhaps a movie with three Oscars doesn’t need to dive too deep into the Facebook’s impact on our daily lives. After all, you may be reading this right now because of a link from Facebook. Or you may feel compelled to discuss the movie and its ideas … on Facebook.

It changed how we connect with people, how we market to people and how we measure our lives. All it may take is a virtual snub — no party invite, no change in relationship status — to turn a dear friend into a fearsome enemy. At the very least, it has brought high school social politics from the dark recesses of our egos onto the Internet for all to witness.

Some of you stake success on your Facebook reach, whether raising money for a cause or selling widgets at your company. Some of you get most, if not all, of your news from your connections. You may use Facebook to score dates, kill time and vent to any who will listen.

It was neither the first nor the last social network, but Zuckerberg figured out early on that exclusivity would help his new site become cool quickly. He wanted to replicate the college experience of trying to hook up with others (socially and sexually) through Facebook profiles.

He tapped directly into FOMO, fear of missing out, so that everyone from 15-year-old wallflowers to 55-year-old grandparents would check in several times a day.

I use it, and I teach people how to use Facebook effectively, whether on a budget of $0 or $100,000.

Moneyball, Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt as Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane in “Moneyball”

“Moneyball” shows another contemporary digital revolution, this one within the hallowed institution of baseball. For decades, scouts had recruited ballplayers based on a combination of skills and “intangibles.” Those scouts knew in their gut who could sell tickets, shore up a team and bring pizazz.

BIlly Beane decides to buck the system. As general manager of the Oakland A’s, he sees his team make the playoffs but fall to the wealthier Yankess in 2001. He hires Paul DePodesta (called Peter Brand in the film) to do the seemingly impossible: Assemble a World Series team on a seemingly Little League budget.

The method to their madness is simple: DePodesta knows numbers, the statistics behind everyone in Major League Baseball. Using an economist’s perspective, he assigns a value to each player based on his on-base percentage and tells Beane to grab the best “bargains,” those players undervalued because they’re seen or ignored based on other less relevant qualities.

It works. And in the process, it upends the conventional wisdom of baseball and temporarily gives the economic underdog the advantage.

Data-driven processes and results have become more prevalent with computers and the people who understand how to capture and analyze the numbers. We see it skillful search engine optimization, and in the reliable election predictions of Nate Silver. And yet, people continue to be surprised when their gut steers them wrong.

“Moneyball” represents the rise of sabermetrics, quantifying a player’s past performance and attempting to predict future performance by relying on relevant statistics, such as runs produced.

Every MLB team uses sabermetrics, and pro teams in every sport have since added their own form of statistical analysis for player evaluation.

We’ve seen advertising over the years as a mysterious voodoo ritual, that something in the casting process works, though we may not know which spell or how effectively. I show people how to quantify past performance of their marketing and public relations efforts and single out the ones to continue (or try) for maximum return on investment.

Both “The Social Network” and “Moneyball” capture the genesis of digital revolutions surrounding our lives. Go beyond watching and take part in these innovative systems to change your own world.

• • •

Let’s work together on your digital revolution.

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