Michael Lewis Tells Princeton Graduates How Moneyball Rules Apply to Real Life

More and more we see a trend — high cal­iber schools are ask­ing celebri­ties to deliv­er their big com­mence­ment speech­es. Conan O’Brien at Dart­mouthStephen Col­bert at North­west­ernDen­zel Wash­ing­ton at PennTom Han­ks at Yale. The list goes on. Admit­ted­ly, the talks can be enter­tain­ing. But, it’s still a breath of fresh air when schools actu­al­ly put an author cen­ter stage. Wit­ness Neil Gaiman at The Uni­ver­si­ty of the Arts and now Michael Lewis at Prince­ton.

Lewis grad­u­at­ed from Prince­ton in 1982, and went on to write many best­sellers — Liar’s Pok­erThe Blind Side, The Big Short, and Mon­ey­ball, a book turned into a Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­tion by Brad Pitt. You prob­a­bly know the gist of Mon­ey­ball. Major league base­ball clubs have long over­val­ued star play­ers, and under­val­ued ver­sa­tile ones who fly beneath the radar. That only changed when scrap­pi­er, finan­cial­ly-pressed teams start­ed min­ing base­ball data in intel­li­gent ways. Well, it turns out the same log­ic applies to the work­ing world. Cor­po­ra­tions reward exec­u­tives out­ra­geous­ly, while under­valu­ing many con­trib­u­tors in an orga­ni­za­tion, which leads “suc­cess­ful” peo­ple to believe they’re extreme­ly tal­ent­ed rather than gen­er­al­ly lucky. So here’s Lewis’ mes­sage to Prince­ton grads. When you get rich or famous, don’t get too car­ried away with your­self. Your suc­cess might have to do with “being there,” or being in the right sys­tem, more than any­thing else.

And now for anoth­er real­i­ty check for grad­u­ates — this one from Welles­ley High Eng­lish teacher David McCul­lough Jr. (son of the famous his­to­ri­an) who tells grads “You are not spe­cial. You are not excep­tion­al.” The empir­i­cal evi­dence makes that clear:

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