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The Hot Hand : The Mystery and Science of Streaks
by Ben Cohen




Overview -

How can you maximize success--and limit failure? Wall Street Journal reporter Ben Cohen brilliantly investigates the mystery and science of streaks, from basketball to business.

A feast for anyone interested in the secrets of excellence. --Andre Agassi

For decades, statisticians, social scientists, psychologists, and economists (among them Nobel Prize winners) have spent massive amounts of precious time thinking about whether streaks actually exist. After all, a substantial number of decisions that we make in our everyday lives are quietly rooted in this one question: If something happened before, will it happen again? Is there such a thing as being in the zone? Can someone have a "hot hand"? Or is it simply a case of seeing patterns in randomness? Or, if streaks are possible, where can they be found?

In The Hot Hand, Wall Street Journal reporter Ben Cohen offers an unfailingly entertaining and provocative investigation into these questions. He begins with how a $35,000 fine and a wild night in New York revived a debate about the existence of streaks that was several generations in the making. We learn how the ability to recognize and then bet against streaks turned a business school dropout named David Booth into a billionaire, and how the subconscious nature of streak-related bias can make the difference between life and death for asylum seekers. We see how previously unrecognized streaks hidden amidst archival data helped solve one of the most haunting mysteries of the twentieth century, the disappearance of Raoul Wallenberg. Cohen also exposes how streak-related incentives can be manipulated, from the five-syllable word that helped break arcade profit records to an arc of black paint that allowed Stephen Curry to transform from future junior high coach into the greatest three-point shooter in NBA history. Crucially, Cohen also explores why false recognition of nonexistent streaks can have cataclysmic results, particularly if you are a sugar beet farmer or the sort of gambler who likes to switch to black on the ninth spin of the roulette wheel.

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Overview

How can you maximize success--and limit failure? Wall Street Journal reporter Ben Cohen brilliantly investigates the mystery and science of streaks, from basketball to business.

A feast for anyone interested in the secrets of excellence. --Andre Agassi

For decades, statisticians, social scientists, psychologists, and economists (among them Nobel Prize winners) have spent massive amounts of precious time thinking about whether streaks actually exist. After all, a substantial number of decisions that we make in our everyday lives are quietly rooted in this one question: If something happened before, will it happen again? Is there such a thing as being in the zone? Can someone have a "hot hand"? Or is it simply a case of seeing patterns in randomness? Or, if streaks are possible, where can they be found?

In The Hot Hand, Wall Street Journal reporter Ben Cohen offers an unfailingly entertaining and provocative investigation into these questions. He begins with how a $35,000 fine and a wild night in New York revived a debate about the existence of streaks that was several generations in the making. We learn how the ability to recognize and then bet against streaks turned a business school dropout named David Booth into a billionaire, and how the subconscious nature of streak-related bias can make the difference between life and death for asylum seekers. We see how previously unrecognized streaks hidden amidst archival data helped solve one of the most haunting mysteries of the twentieth century, the disappearance of Raoul Wallenberg. Cohen also exposes how streak-related incentives can be manipulated, from the five-syllable word that helped break arcade profit records to an arc of black paint that allowed Stephen Curry to transform from future junior high coach into the greatest three-point shooter in NBA history. Crucially, Cohen also explores why false recognition of nonexistent streaks can have cataclysmic results, particularly if you are a sugar beet farmer or the sort of gambler who likes to switch to black on the ninth spin of the roulette wheel.


 

Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062820723
  • ISBN-10: 0062820729
  • Publisher: Custom House
  • Publish Date: March 2020
  • Page Count: 304
  • Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.9 pounds


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BookPage Reviews

The Hot Hand

Is there really such a thing as a “hot streak”—a prolonged span of consistent success? In his debut book, The Hot Hand: The Mystery and Science of Streaks, Wall Street Journal sports reporter Ben Cohen takes a deep dive into this fascinating, often misunderstood phenomenon. 

Cleverly crafted through stories, examples, personal experiences, research studies, expert opinion and theories, The Hot Hand relies heavily on Cohen’s sports reporting expertise, with entertaining illustrations taken from both the basketball court and baseball diamond. These include a high school basketball team that adopted a winning strategy of shooting the ball only when very close to the basket or very far away, the success of NBA star shooter Stephen Curry and the interplay between an unlikely MLB starting pitcher and batter on a sticky Texas evening. 

But this book isn’t just about sports. “[A hot streak] happens to different people in different professions for entirely different reasons,” says Cohen, providing illustrations from the farming industry, computer gaming, business, Shakespeare, the art world and even how the music streaming service Spotify got the kinks out of its shuffle algorithm. He also delves into the difference between the gambler’s fallacy (how we perceive outcomes that are beyond our control) and the hot-hand fallacy (how we perceive outcomes we feel we can control).

Along with real-life examples are pages of authoritative commentary about the psychological and evolutionary ramifications of hot streaks, including a fascinating interjection from a professor who relates hot streaks to cognitive adaptation, suggesting our ancestors relied on the hot hand to forage. Cohen also covers comparative advantage—betting against the hot hand as an effective business strategy.

The Hot Hand is an interesting and thought-provoking book on a topic that isn’t often discussed but that impacts many different interests, activities and industries. Cohen sums it up best: “The hot hand is not a random occurrence. It’s the collision of talent, circumstance, and even a little bit of luck.”

 

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