Hot Hand: It Lives!

By Shlomo Maital

 Hot Hand

Tuesday (Sept. 20)’s Wall St. Journal Sports Page has an article titled “The ‘Hot Hand’ May Actually be Real”.   It’s about an old idea, that basketball players have ‘hot hand’ streaks, in which their scoring percentage is much higher than normal in a series of shots.   Basketball players KNOW this exists.   But scholars deny it. A famous article by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman examined the data and debunked the ‘hot hand’ theory.

Now comes a new (unpublished) article by economists Joshua Miller and Adam Sanjurjo, with a new perspective. Hey! The hot hand lives! They begin their paper with a riddle.

      Toss a coin four times. Repeat this a million times. What % of the coins come up heads, after the first toss comes up HEADS?

50% ?   obvious?

   Wrong.   40%.     After an “H” on the first toss, there are 14 equally likely sequences in with at least one H (heads) in the next 3 flips. In the average sequence, there is a 60% chance it will be tails, and 40% chance it will be heads.   Work it out!

   Re-analysis of data shows there is a hot hand.   And I am relieved. Because in creativity research, the work of  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on “Flow” shows that when we are creative, we are in ‘flow’, we are in the zone….   And surely basketball players too get ‘in the zone’ sometimes. They certainly believe they do.

   The big question? How can you invite a ‘hot hand’? How can you create it? How can you get ‘in the zone’ when you seek ideas?   Best way:   Relax, have fun, enjoy, have idle time, and listen to your subconscience. For basketball? Relax, be confident, believe…and it will come.