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Jonathan Bernstein draws on Bill James to offer advice to both the Republican and Democratic parties following last week’s election:

I can start not with wisdom from political science, but from the great baseball analyst Bill James, who had useful observations about both winners and losers that I think are worth learning from in the political context, even though it’s obviously quite different.

About winners, Bill James noted their tendency to invariably keep everyone.  That means not only keeping the good players who would help win the next year, but also the bad players that made winning harder (because you can always remember at least one positive contribution, and you’re going to be far more aware of the positives than the negatives); it also meant keeping the players who were useful now, but unlikely to be helpful in the future.  Translated to politics, this suggests that Republicans need to be wary about assuming that everything they did was successful just because they had a good year.  James counsels baseball teams to be ruthless in their self-assessments against the tendency to settle for what worked last time.  Republicans now should do the same.

For losers, James identified the tendency of fans, and sometimes management, to focus most of their criticism on the stars, on the perceived (or even real) flaws of the very best players.  In the baseball context, this is usually insanely self-destructive.  Does the same thing happen in politics?  Yup.  Is it self-destructive?  Yup.

When we succeed, whether in business or politics, we tend to attribute the bulk of that success directly to our efforts.  The Republicans won a significant electoral victory last week, but there is great danger in over assigning causality to their own efforts and under assigning causality to situational and structural factors that may not be in place come 2012 (as I previously discussed here).  Successful organizations must be “ruthless in their self-assessments” so as to avoid confirmation bias and ensure that future strategies match up with future structural environments.  Any event will be the product of agents’ actions and structural factors.  The trick is to untangle as best one can the relationship between and relative weight of both to understand the outcome.

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