Posts Tagged ‘Brad Pitt’

I love baseball. I love Aaron Sorkin. I love, at least since the magnificent The Tree of Life, Brad Pitt. So there were high expectations for my trip to see Moneyball last week. What a shame that it disappointed so much. It glided along well, with some sharp Sorkin-dialogue and a few great scenes, but it never really took off; and I was even tempted to look at my watch two-thirds of the way through. (How it gets 95% on Rotten Tomatoes I don’t know. I’ll blog about Rotten Tomatoes soon.)

But the central premise (based on a true story) is interesting. Baseball manager Billy Bean (Brad Pitt) is running a team that can’t afford to compete financially with the bigger teams. Every time one of his players proves himself, he gets offered a multi-million dollar contract by someone else and is gone at the beginning of the next season.

Bean notices that people tend to rate players on a limited number of obvious skills and characteristics – how many runs they score, how good their swing is, how fast and accurately they can pitch, etc.

But not many people are analysing the less obvious statistical data about what actually helps a team to win a single game, and to keep winning consistently over a season. It’s not, as it turns out, simply the showy stuff or the obvious stuff – hits and catches and home runs and strike-outs (or whatever – I’m not sure I understand it all); it’s a combination of much less interesting factors like whether someone can make it to first base or whether they can throw a ball from the outfield.

When you get a team of non-stars who, in combination, can do this boring stuff, they beat a team of all-stars. You just need to analyse systematically what actually works, and find people who can do this.

The moral, if there is one, is that we shouldn’t assume we know what works and what doesn’t – until we have done the statistical analysis. Yes, statistics can distort or even deceive, but if you ask the right questions, they can reveal what really makes something work. It’s too easy for us to think we know what works, to take for granted that our criteria for judging something properly are reliable and proven, when often we are just going on unfounded hunches and prejudices.

This is why I always prefer to do detailed written feedback sheets at the end of a course or programme. I’ve heard people say that they like to sit down with people and hear from them directly; and there is certainly something to be gained from talking and listening. But my experience is that in a group conversation, even when you ask everyone to speak, the conversation will still be dominated by the louder ones, or the ones who feel most strongly about the issue (positively or negatively); and as an organiser you will always be tempted to be influenced too much by those who speak with most conviction.

But when you give everyone a chance, in a quiet moment of written reflection, to say what they think in detail about how something has worked, you get a much better picture, and often a lot of surprises. How to get honest and helpful feedback from people is a great art. I’d like to know more about other ways of getting constructive feedback.

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Pushy parents magazine by paulmorriss.

Marianne Kavanagh writes about the perils of modern parenting, and the particular pressure there is on parents today to obsess about whether they are making the correct choices as they bring their children up. The art of muddling through has been replaced by the science of seeking perfection.

Should you let your eight year-old out to play, risking abduction and getting run over, or should you keep him safely at home and worry instead about square eyes and obesity? Should you rush your daughter from violin to ballet, exposing her to a wealth of opportunity, or should you stop being so pushy and let her daydream?

Breastfeeding versus bottle-feeding, staying at home versus going out to work – there’s argument and counter-argument and a feeling that you’re going around in circles. “The only thing you know for certain,” says one mother gloomily, “is that whatever you’re doing is wrong.”

There is a wonderful photo with the original article [not the photo now on the Telegraph web article] of an innocent toddler crouching beside a huge pile of parenting books. She is reaching for a book entitled What every parent needs to know, with the suggestion that she wants to invert the roles and educate her parents in the knowledge they need to bring her up well. But the real message is that she is about to be crushed under the weight of books when the tottering pile falls over. 

Where has all this anxiety come from? “I always clean the lavatory before the health visitor comes,” says my friend Jane, “in case she thinks we’re slovenly.” We compare ourselves to other parents and find ourselves wanting. We see pictures of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and really, really hope that they too feed their children rubbish food. We panic in case our actions harm our children for life – “I hate football,” says the father of three small boys, “but I have to pretend I like it in case I’m being a pathetic role model” – and spend all our time worrying about additives, knife crime and omega 3. As Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the university of Kent, points out in his book Paranoid Parenting (Continuum, £10.99), we seem to have lost our nerve completely.

Maybe it is a big, bad world out there. But you have to wonder why our anxiety has reached such mammoth proportions. Perhaps it’s because we tend to have our children later in life these days – since 2004, women in Britain have been more likely to have babies in their thirties than their twenties – and so treat child-rearing like a job, with targets, multiskilling and 360-degree reviews. Or perhaps, with the pressure for both parents to work long hours, we’ve lost the art of muddling through. You could argue, after all, that routinely spending all your waking hours with a three year-old induces the kind of benign boredom that knocks anxiety on the head. Others believe that our growing insecurity comes from isolation. Few of us these days have aunts, cousins and grandmothers living nearby.

It doesn’t mean all the advice is unwelcome or unhelpful. I know parents who have found real wisdom in some of these books. But it makes you wish that all parents had the human support of friends and family to say to them: “You are doing OK! More than that – what you are doing is amazing!”

I remember a talk when I was studying at seminary about all the psychological problems that you can inherit from your parents. But at the end the speaker said: “But don’t worry. Most of our parents did good enough. And good enough is pretty good”.

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