Why Productivity and Efficiency as a means to an End concern me: Mostly non-basketball Reasons.

I beg your indulgence with this endeavor. I haven't written anything of consequence for this site and I thought I'd stir the pot with something that's been on my mind. The connections may seem a bit tenuous, but bear with me. (Highlighted links witin the text will take you to another page.) I figured since I could make the slightest connection to Timberwolves basketball it must be appropriate for Canis Hoopus! Why not just continue to think about it on my own? Easy. I know how I feel about it at this point, but instigating a debate is a good way for me to learn. I know there are a lot of intelligent people who contribute to this site. Perhaps some of you will weigh in. Presumptuous?


I'll start by sharing a favorite poem to get your minds headed in the direction I'd like to take you.

When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer

When I heard the learn’d astronomer, When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me, When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them, When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room, How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick, Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself, In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time, Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

-Walt Whitman

I was raised in a small rural farming community in western Minnesota.

It's a community that has been in gradual decline for many years despite the best efforts of many dedicated people. Government policy, technological changes, lack of opportunity, personal values and farm consolidation have undermined the structure of our communities.

I grew up walking beans, picking rocks and baling hay for my grandfather and other locals. In 2008 I moved back and I've worked for the same corn, soybean and sugar beet farmers I worked for growing up, but the last two growing seasons I've gone to work for friends of mine who own a CSA. The point of this introduction is to say that my life has evolved within agriculture.

This is ultimately a discussion about Values.

I realize this can be a touchy subject. We all have our own. (Here comes the basketball part...) I see the work that's put into measuring player effectiveness with new metrics. My eyes may glaze over when I read those posts, but I can't deny the numbers. I'm not threatened by them in any way either. They're just a reflection of what's happening; what may happen.

What do we do with them?

Just as in agriculture, data can show us the most efficient way to do something. The most efficient way leads to greater productivity. It's hard to argue with this. Greater productivity has been the goal for agriculture for decades now. It is hard to argue this as a goal for an individual farmer. Who doesn't want to make more money? Who doesn't want to win every game?

When I watch a basketball game I'm hoping I see Something Amazing. Sure I want my team of choice to win the game, but if all I cared about was the end result I'd be doing what I should be doing (which at the moment is reading David Hume) and I'd check the box score the next day.

I watch because I hope to see Ricky do this:

Ricky Rubio No Look Behind the Back Pass to Kevin Love (via Vincent Abrugar)

I realize I'm painting this in an either/or light when the reality is more murky.

However, those in the agricultural technology business are taking the next steps down the road. Productivity is the primary value and this is what has come of it:

Kinze Automation Demonstration (via Farm Journal)

This isn't the end result for every farm in America.

This technology will only work in certain places, but with the willingness of farmers to adopt new technology for productivity gains, the amount of adoption may be surprising.

Productivity and efficiency aren't bad things in themselves, but should they be the primary means to an end?

First Harvest and CSA (via Stephanie Veto)

Let's assume the goal for two differnt farmers is money and the goal for a basketball team is winning.

How should we reach those goals? All three will need repeatable practices and a way to decide which practices should, or should not, be repeated. (Hopefully Gorgui will remember which basket is his.) Once you learn which plants are the vegetables and which the weeds; it's best to remember. Isn't this efficiency? Why do I have reservations then? Can we get too caught up in being efficient? Where is that line? Working at the CSA we very often carried our totes of vegetables from the field into the wash house. We had a truck and a tractor that could carry many times what an individual could carry. We used them if weather conditions required or depending on the vegetable. Carrying them was the first choice, often up a hill and over 100 yards.

Why do this?

The differnces in practice come when the desired end changes from one of money to one of high quality food. Perhaps it's about meaningful work that's beneficial to the body like the food we grew. Can we relate this to basketball? What are the long-term implications for basketball with a focus on efficiency? Is there any other purpose for a professional team like the Timberwolves besides winning? Is it amazing basketball?


(Thanks for reading!)

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