If Data Falls in a Forest

A friend of mine recently related a conversation he had with an experienced team sport scout. This scout valued completeness and correctness very highly and has a philosophy of:

"The scout file is a document unto itself, for its own sake."

I would actually argue the opposite, that it is only a scout document IF it is used for the purpose it was intended. 

Rather than having a philosophy that capturing every possible thing is critical in order to be thorough, I believe the emphasis should be on capturing as little as possible that doesn't end up getting used. Surely this is a better use of resources?

The problem here is that this philosophy fights a perception that being incomplete is the same as being incorrect. But this is not the case. Sometimes (often) 'completeness' is irrelevant. If I split a $100 dinner bill with two friends, we each owe $33.333333333333 recurring cents. But this level of completeness, while accurate, is meaningless in practical terms.

I've argued for years that at least the same amount of resources should be put into managing, analysing and using any data collected, that is spent on capturing the data in the first place. Because if the data is never used, and no one even knows about it, does it matter? If data is collected, and it was never used, did it ever really exist?


  1. The phrase the comes to mind here is Law of Diminishing returns. At a certain point, the extra information gained simply isn't worth the time and effort involved in collecting and analysing it. I'm reminded of Mike Hebert's comments at last year's AVCA convention (and I think in his book Thinking Volleyball) about the Competitive Cauldron idea. He said he tried it, but found it was simply eating up too much of his staff's time. Also said Anson Dorrance, who popularized the idea (perhaps inadvertently), once confessed to him that he didn't actually use the Cauldron to make line-up decisions.

  2. Thanks for your comment John, I enjoy reading your blog.

    I think the idea of 'diminishing returns' is critical, and have it in mind for yet another post! Here is what I wrote about it a while ago:

  3. The fear of missing out on some imaginary future (regardless of how likely it is to be realised) is surprisingly strong.

  4. Thanks Jason. It is very strong, but also very understandable. In bigger sports and bigger clubs it is simply a question of throwing more resources at something to ensure that there is nothing that could be missed. The ability to do this through 'volunteers' and 'interns' has resulted in huge inefficiencies being developed, simply because there was no need to develop more efficient systems.

    One of the biggest compliments you can give someone working in High Performance sport is that they outwork their competitors, and the fear of missing something that might be useful in the future is a big motivator for this.


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