Sunday, 9 September 2012

Preventing Linesman Syndrome

On John D. Cook's blog The Endeavour he writes about an excerpt from Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers that says that commercial airline crashes are more likely to happen when the more senior pilot is in charge. This seems counter-intuitive but it is because it is difficult for the person with less experience to point out someone more senior's error.
In commercial airlines, captains and first officers split the flying duties equally. But historically, crashes have been far more likely to happen when the captain is in the “flying seat.” At first this seems to make no sense, since the captain is almost always the pilot with the most experience. … Planes are safer when the least experienced pilot is flying, because it means the second pilot isn’t going to be afraid to speak up.
He gives an example of how German aerospace company DLR have leveraged this knowledge. They write software using pair programming where the junior programmer writes code and the senior programmer picks it apart.

What it made me think of is how referee's assistants* in soccer rarely got involved in soccer and how the the new officials behind the goal often don't. I think the addition of a fourth official, which would often be the most experienced referee may have helped in a way similar to the above to help referee's assistants get more involved.

* I had to google this. I really don't watch much soccer.

The idea of rotating officials is one I have long advocating. They do it successfully in baseball where umpiring crews will take turns at different bases. I think this was out of necessity as doing home plate umpire is a mentally-draining task but it really helped to spread out experience amongst the umpires.

Another consequence of referee's assistants not wanting to butt into the referee's responsibilities is what I call Linesman Syndrome. I would describe it as follows:
When you have had little influence on something then you are far more likely to exert your influence when given the chance to do so.
This is from years of watching matches where referee's assistants would not get involved in off-the-ball incidents but would put up their flag too early when the ball was on the touchline.

Linesman Syndrome can often be seen with baseball managers. In a high leverage situation when given the choice between ordering a bunt, which is generally an inferior strategy, or not ordering a bunt a manager will often take the former option because they are exerting their influence. The difference in expected value is quite small in one at bat but when a run scores after a bunt a manager can claim his decision led to the run scoring.

We need to start crediting people for doing nothing!

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