Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Minding The Store

GM Jim Bowden returns with his weekly column in the Examiner. This week, he discusses the mechanics of the draft, where you can learn that there are 15 chairs, and that the room will be hot. Snore.

But he talked about who'd be in the room, and something caught my eye: Jon Niednagel will advise us on brain imaging.

I've heard mentions of this guy in connection with Bowden, but I didn't realize how accurate they were or that he was playing such a role in the team's decision process. "Brain imaging" sounds scary, like phrenology or some other such nonsense.

So who is this guy and what does he do? His website says that he's able to sort athletes into one of 16 categories, which they can use to rate future success.
BTI has recently released new terminology and nomenclature for our Brain Types, distinct from the 8 letters espoused by Jungian enthusiasts. Though we find no fault in Jung’s 8 terms, we believe there is a much more accurate and scientific way to describe man’s inborn skills. Though we have privately used these descriptions for years, we now believe the time is better for sharing some of this information with the public—which is generally disinterested in technical terms. Nonetheless, we believe it is necessary to assist others in going deeper into Brain Types and how the brain directs our various inborn "behaviors".

We believe that Brain Typing is the most accurate methodology for evaluating and describing man’s inborn “normal” behavior—cerebrally and physically. Each of the 16 Brain Types have sub-classifications (which we hold in confidence at this time)—based upon other genetic variables.

He's helpfully assembled a FAQ answering (well, sort of) your questions.

He also has a page of testimonials from a number of successful sports executives like Syd Thrift, Kevin McHale, and Danny Ainge. Also from athletes like Sean Casey, Sammy Sosa, and Kerry Kittles. Who am I to question their success? When Ted Newland, the winningest coach in NCAA Water Polo history says something like, "I’m super turned on to Brain Typing right now," I'm going to stop and listen.

I'm willing to believe that personality is a factor, and that teams should avail themselves of every conceivable data point, but this guy? I dunno.

Did I mention that he does his brain imaging just by sight?

ESPN's Outside the lines did an entire show on his techniques. The skeptics aren't impressed.
SANDBEK- There is no credible evidence that brain typing works.

RINALDI- Clinical psychologist Terry Sandbek, a Ph.D. from Pepperdine with a practice in Davis, California, is skeptical about Niednagel's skills for one reason. No scientific proof.

As far as you can tell, what is brain typing based on?

SANDBEK- Hype and hope.

RINALDI- Nothing more?

SANDBEK- Nothing more.

RINALDI- Nothing scientific.

SANDBEK- No science at all.

RINALDI- In the fields of genetics and brain chemistry, it would seem that a degree, likely an advanced one, in some scientific discipline, would be fundamental.

Yet Jonathan Niednagel's academic credentials end with a B.S. in finance. And his former career was as a commodities trader.

SANDBEK- He's not a scientist because he has no scientific training, he has no scientific publications, and he's not working as a scientist. In fact, he's -- the closest we could get to that would be he's a very credible pseudoscientist.

NIEDNAGEL- I think I'm fairly well versed in terms of the cognitive functions of the brain and how they work; I think I'm fairly well versed in terms of the motor cortex and all the motor skills and so forth. So, in that sense, I do understand some things about the brain and I've read about it for some 20 years and continue to read....

RINALDI- These teams, these coaches, these general manager types, they've been duped.

SANDBEK- Oh, if they think they're going to have a better team, or win more games, or enhance their performances, of course they've been duped. If, indeed, he could do this, he would be the fist person in history, in humanity, to do it, and he'd be the only person to do it, and this is quite a skill. It'd be -- it would be akin to someone saying, I can jump off a cliff, flap my arms and fly through the air.

Other critics have looked into it:
DR. ROLAND CARLSTEDT, PH.D., CHAIRMAN, AMERICAN BOARD OF SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY- Well, as the clinical psychologist said previously, there's no published evidence whatsoever that you can eyeball a person and -- more importantly -- link an appraisal to underlying brain function. Nowadays we use sophisticated methods to localize brain functioning, and the correlations between personality and...

LEY-So there's no basis in science, is what you're saying?

CARLSTEDT- None whatsoever.

CARLSTEDT- Well, first of all, I did my dissertation, which won the American Psychological Association award for best dissertation on behavioral neuroscience and sports psychology. And in doing so, essentially what came out of it is that personality typing -- and that's what it is -- it's not brain typing, it's personality typing based on an antiquated method that Carl Jung developed a century ago that Myers-Briggs further validated through testing -- but then to eyeball athletes and type them and somehow correlate that with brain function is absurd.

And the typing that Jon Niednagel does contains personality elements that have been studied in over 1,000 studies in sports psychology. So, what, are you going to dismiss them? And these studies have essentially shown that personality per se makes up less than 10 percent of the variants in the performance equation. Meaning, if you have 100 factors, less than 10 -- if you accumulated all psychological factors, contribute to performance.
Niednagel claims to have never been wrong, when he's been given enough time to observe.

Bowden apparently discovered him when he was looking help for dealing with his arrogance.
“Jim's a thinker,” Mr. Niednagel says. “He's always thinking in terms of strategizing and how can we make this system better. His type is an excellent problem-solver. They love to have a scenario that's almost chaotic to see how can I make sense of it.

“Typically, with that wiring, you'll find a little more potential for conflict ... Thinking is the opposite of feelings.”

Mr. Niednagel has identified 16 basic brain types and says Mr. Bowden's is similar to that of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Teddy Roosevelt and computer entrepreneurs Bill Gates and Paul Allen.

Regardless of the merits of the system, it doesn't seem like it comes cheaply:
RINALDI- How much do you get paid by professional teams?

NIEDNAGEL- Some people would say a lot.

RINALDI- Well, what would you say?

NIEDNAGEL- Everything is relative. I'm cheap. Super cheap. For instance...

RINALDI- Define cheap.

NIEDNAGEL- Well, let's just put it -- they will pay me in the six figures.

On a team that's crying poverty, so much so that they can't call up minor leaguers, is this the right priority?

The Orioles recently fired their personality profiler, Dave Ritterspusch, who, it seems, had a much more prominent role on the team. (Lots of good background on him and his methods here)

I don't know what to make of it. It's certainly interesting that they're looking in all directions. I guess the question is how much influence is it going to have? That's where my skepticism lies.

  • He has an online test, if you're interested. For what it's worth, it seemed to completely miss the mark with me:
    artful with machines, tools, and hands; seeks action and excitement; superb tactician—seizing the moment; athletic, competitive, witty but usually not wordy; street smart; ever-thinking; can be intense with deep convictions; adaptive; fine motor skilled

    Witty, but not wordy? Reading my droll, overly long crap, do you really believe that? ;)
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