On ‘Jeopardy!’ and Arthur Chu, sabermetrics and silencing the haters

I have been a “Jeopardy!” nerd for the majority of my life. So, like a select portion of the population, I have been watching Arthur Chu as the masses have been whipped up about his unorthodox playing methods.

Thursday’s contest put a lot of the noise to rest. Chu delivered the equivalent of an ace pitcher throwing a perfect game. Everything clicked: He worked his method to perfection, mashing the buzzer into oblivion, seeking out (and winning) true Daily Doubles, removing all doubt of his impending victory about 12 minutes into the show. He headed into “Final Jeopardy” with a $35,000 lead, which might as well have been $1 million. I’ve never seen the other two opponents look so dejected at the end of a game.

Baseball is a good analogy for what Chu is doing. The rise of statistics in baseball (“Moneyball,” “sabermetrics,” etc.) has shown that conventional methods aren’t always the best measures of success. And just like baseball, there are “Jeopardy!” fans that are hating on Chu’s style, taking to the Internet to call him out as as grating, eccentric or insulting to the game.

For the life of me, I cannot understand the hatred. The only thing Chu did was figure out that the traditional conventions of “Jeopardy!” were a farce, and played it into a method (not his own, mind you) that has allowed him to win and win and win again. It’s not eccentric, it’s pragmatic.

There’s a business lesson in here. (Wait, don’t click away yet! Just hear me out.) Be it baseball or data analytics or a game show, ruthless pragmatism can be a virtue. A lot of people have a problem with Chu’s method, but it’s tough to argue against it when it produces an outcome like the one we saw Thursday.

We’ve seen this ruthless pragmatism applied in business elsewhere, under the buzzword of “disruption.” While Arthur Chu isn’t exactly Jeff Bezos or Steve Jobs, the same logic applies. Harness information, apply it to old conventions, answer the right questions, and profit from it all.

Even Chu’s haters seem to be coming around. From jboard.tv, a message board filled with Jeopardy die-hards, a sample of postings from last night’s show thread:

So whether it’s Jeff Bezos, Justin Verlander or Arthur Chu, the ultimate way to support your method and silence your critics is grounded in one thing: finding whatever works, conventional or otherwise, and riding it to success.

Read the full story from the Washington Business Journal.

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