The World Series just concluded. Congratulations, Red Sox fans and boy, how it pains me to say that as a life-long Yankees fan. Watching baseball reminded me of something we used to say back when I played baseball. When a guy was in a hitting slump we’d often say “he’s due.” What we meant was that according to his batting average he had taken enough at-bats that it was time for a hit. After all, if his average shows he gets 3 hits every 10 times at bat and he hadn’t had a hit in 15 plate appearances, statistically he should get one now. We were convinced he was due.
That, dear readers, was our youthful display of The Gambler’s Fallacy. We were laboring under the misconception that what has recently occurred will affect what occurs next even if the two events are unrelated. For example, if flipping a coin nine times results in nine instances of “heads,” you might think “tails” is due. Sorry – probability still applies and there’s a 50 percent chance the tenth flip will be heads regardless of what has happened before.
Stop and think about how often you or someone you know in business makes the mistake that if something happens more frequently than normal during a given period, it will happen less frequently in the future (or vice versa). Salespeople refuse to accept higher quotas after a good year, holding back revenue projections which holds back hiring and spending which results in a missed opportunity. Marketers keep spending against historically good targets after a few campaigns don’t result in the expected results rather than acknowledging that the market may have shifted. Financial people let their insurance lapse after a disaster figuring that if they had a hurricane hit in their area which rarely gets hurricanes, the likelihood of another one hitting is very low. As someone pointed out, the term “100-year flood” doesn’t mean a flood happens every hundred years; it means there is a 1% chance of it hitting during ANY year.
The odds of a disaster happening might be very low but we buy insurance and, more importantly, we make disaster plans. The failure to hit a revenue target after three bad quarters doesn’t mean “you’re due” to have a huge fourth quarter. It means you need to make adjustments. There is no question that luck plays some role in business success and failure but that’s not a business plan.
In the great baseball movie “Major League”, the manager brings in a pitcher to face a batter that has gotten many hits off of him in the past. When the catcher questions his choice, the manager says “I know he hasn’t done very well against this guy but I got a hunch he’s due.” That might be how you want to run your baseball team but it is NOT the way you want to run your business. It worked out in the movies but that’s not real life.