Sunday, December 14, 2008

How extraordinary?

(click on the graphic to enlarge)

"Each block represents a year and each column represents a range of return on the United States S&P index. Over on the right side are those lucky years where the index has soared upward from 50-60%. In the middle are the more typical years, where the market has risen less than 10%.

That little box on the far left? Yeah, that's this year."
Daily Kos via Mankiw.

Now try this one - a histogram of the batting average of all the people who’ve played cricket for their country:

(click on graphic to enlarge)

"What makes it remarkable is the barely noticeable bump at the far right of the graph, indicated by a blue arrow. It shows the cricket batting average, 99.94, of one Donald Bradman, an Australian batsman who you could plausibly argue was the most outsized talent in any area of human achievement.

To understand how Bradman’s 99.94 average compares with other batsmen, consider that a typical topflight batsman has an average in the range 45 to 55. Batsmen with averages above 55 are once-in-a-generation phenomena who dominate the entire game. After Bradman, the second highest average in history belongs to South African Graeme Pollock, with 60.97, and the third highest to West Indian George Headley, with 60.83. (Current Australian batsman Michael Hussey has an average of about 70. It remains to be seen if he can keep this up.)

It’s tempting to think that the greats of other sports, people like Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretsky, and so on, must stand out just as far as Bradman. But a look at the statistics doesn’t back this up. For example, Jordan scored an average of 30.12 points per game, a monumental achievement, but only a fraction ahead of Wilt Chamberlain’s 30.07, with a somewhat larger gap to Allen Iverson, with 27.73. Following Iverson there are many others with averages of around 26 or 27 points per game."
- Michael Nielsen

And here, Joshua Gans reviews Outliers: The Story of Success, in which Malcolm Gladwell argues that hard work, and the love of hard work, is what separates the merely brilliant from the brilliantly successful. Here's an extract.