Is there really such a thing as a “hot streak”—a prolonged span of consistent success? In his debut book, The Hot Hand: The Mystery and Science of Streaks, Wall Street Journal sports reporter Ben Cohen takes a deep dive into this fascinating, often misunderstood phenomenon.
Cleverly crafted through stories, examples, personal experiences, research studies, expert opinion and theories, The Hot Hand relies heavily on Cohen’s sports reporting expertise, with entertaining illustrations taken from both the basketball court and baseball diamond. These include a high school basketball team that adopted a winning strategy of shooting the ball only when very close to the basket or very far away, the success of NBA star shooter Stephen Curry and the interplay between an unlikely MLB starting pitcher and batter on a sticky Texas evening.
But this book isn’t just about sports. “[A hot streak] happens to different people in different professions for entirely different reasons,” says Cohen, providing illustrations from the farming industry, computer gaming, business, Shakespeare, the art world and even how the music streaming service Spotify got the kinks out of its shuffle algorithm. He also delves into the difference between the gambler’s fallacy (how we perceive outcomes that are beyond our control) and the hot-hand fallacy (how we perceive outcomes we feel we can control).
Along with real-life examples are pages of authoritative commentary about the psychological and evolutionary ramifications of hot streaks, including a fascinating interjection from a professor who relates hot streaks to cognitive adaptation, suggesting our ancestors relied on the hot hand to forage. Cohen also covers comparative advantage—betting against the hot hand as an effective business strategy.
The Hot Hand is an interesting and thought-provoking book on a topic that isn’t often discussed but that impacts many different interests, activities and industries. Cohen sums it up best: “The hot hand is not a random occurrence. It’s the collision of talent, circumstance, and even a little bit of luck.”