Is Success the Result of a Split-Second?
New research has shown that the greatest athletes, musicians and performers are not masters of their craft simply because of their physical ability or training, but because they can anticipate events better than others. Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky is a prime example, authors Vivek Ranadivé and Kevin Maney point out in The Two-Second Advantage. In 1999, Gretzky retired with 2,857 points scored, a startling 970 points more (in 269 fewer games played) than the next closest player. He could somehow anticipate the play before it occurred. This extraordinary predictive skill was honed through thousands of hours of practice and a father who gave his son one guiding principle, "Go where the puck is going, not where it’s been." This gave Gretzky what the authors call a "two-second advantage." And they believe that businesses will soon be able to gain their own two-second advantage thanks to advances in both neurological research and information technology.
How to Pick Up Orange Juice
Neuroscience now tracks how the human brain functions not just by gathering information, but by using that information to predict what is going to happen next. Before we even open the refrigerator door, the human brain is already predicting what we will find in the refrigerator, the authors write. When we reach for the orange juice, the brain predicts based on past experience how heavy the orange juice will be, allowing us to lift the juice with the right force. Gretzky’s brain, as with the brains of other great performers, athletes and most successful people in any field, allowed him to move through this process just slightly faster than everyone else on the ice. When information technology better replicates the predictive process of the brain — and that day is imminent, according to the authors — businesses will be challenged to gain the same two-second advantage. Of course, the "two-second advantage" is not meant to be taken literally, note the authors. Depending on the situation, the advantage might be two weeks, two months or even two years — whatever is, relatively, just a fraction ahead of the competition.
Predicting When Joe Consumer Wants a TV
Some businesses are already using the information technology capabilities they have to move in this direction, write the authors. Some retailers, for example, can anticipate what their customers will want even before the customers themselves know — and not just their customers in general, but each individual customer. Sam’s Club has a system called eValues that sorts by individual shoppers data culled from billions of historical transactions. Based on this data and on the observation of the behavior of customers, all processed through sophisticated logarithms, the system can predict, for example, that a certain person is very likely to buy a big-screen TV in the next two months. Armed with this knowledge, Sam’s can send a discount offer on TVs to the customer before the customer has even indicated that he or she is looking for a TV.
The technology to develop truly sophisticated predictive ability for companies is still in its early stages. As a result, Ranadivé, CEO of a major international software company, and Maney, a technology writer, have written a book that is more a look at the future than what is possible today. At the same time, the book demonstrates, through scores of fascinating stories, the advantage and potential of predictive capabilities.
Those who anticipate the future are at an advantage — just one of the reasons to read books such as The Two-Second Advantage.