The Lindy Effect

Pop Quiz: Whose music would you expect to hear in 100 years from now: a) Mozart; b) One Direction?

If you guessed Mozart, you possibly based your answer on the ‘Lindy Effect’, whether you knew it or not.

(If you guessed ‘One Direction’ you’re the first 13-year old girl we’ve had on this site).

The Lindy Effect is a theory of life expectancy, that posits, for a certain class of non-perishables (e.g. a technology or an idea) every additional day implies a longer life expectancy.

Summarised in the vernacular, the Lindy Effect suggests that the longer something is around, the longer we can expect it to be around.

For example, Mozart’s music, much of it composed about 300 years ago, would be expected to last another 300 years.

One Direction’s ‘music’, on the other hand, will (hopefully) pierce our ears for no more than another four years.

Examples of the Lindy Effect are all around us:

  • Despite all our advances in cooking technology (electric stoves, microwaving, etc.), the best chefs continue our 400,000-year practice of using fire (gas) to cook their meals.
  • Music records (invented in 1889 AD) have out lasted the 8-track (1940s) and could be expected to do the same with compact disc (1960s).
  • Casting our eyes back to the 70s, 80s & 90s when commercial gyms were filled with machines, we’re seeing them replaced with the barbell (invented in it’s current form circa 1865).

 

What’s the value in understanding the Lindy Effect (LE)?

In the world of Sports and Training, fads, trends and the ‘latest ‘n greatest’ habitually take precedence over the ‘tried and tested’; often to the detriment of our athletes and clients.

We seem to jump on a bandwagon (think: high fat eating, barefoot running, 10,000 hours, TA activation, CrossFit, to name a recent few) before abandoning the idea for the next craze.

We scramble to get certified, buy the equipment, radically change our programs, and waste time arguing on the net… Only to repeat the process with the next movement that gathers momentum.

The LE can help us differentiate between ‘what is popular’ and ‘what is fundamental’ or ‘what works’.

For the regular readers of this site, you’ll recognise that, while I was unaware of the Lindy Effect in name, the idea behind this article was inspired by the LE in practice (Lessons for Interns 2).

By understanding the LE, one can potentially make better decisions on where to invest our time, money and other resources.

 

Some words of Caution

It is important to note that the Lindy Effect only applies to ‘non-perishables’. In other words, you cannot apply it to the fruit and veggies in your fridge.

We should also differentiate between a ‘person who does CrossFit’ (perishable) and the ‘philosophy of CrossFit’ (non-perishable).

The Lindy Effect does not judge which concept or idea is *better*; it just may help predict which will be around in the future.

Understanding this could help moderate the wild pendulum swings we see in the Sports, Coaching and Training worlds.

 

Applying the Lindy Effect to:

… Books

Think back to circa 2008 when everyone was jumping on the 10,000-hour bandwagon.

Books such as Outliers, The Talent Code and Bounce were doing the rounds.

National Sporting Organisations got giddy at the thought that if their athletes just accumulated that magic number they’d be considered successful (forgetting of course that their competition was also in the volume race).

Despite some of these books being ‘best sellers’, they are essentially obsolete now.

On the other hand, consider the value of The Science and Practice of Strength Training (first published in 1995) Supertraining (1999), and The Weightlifting Encyclopedia (1998).

Each of these books was first published 10 years before the ’10,000 hour’ books, using much of their research from 20 to 30 years prior to that.

And yet, there aren’t too many athletes who wouldn’t improve if their coach applied the information from these texts.

So next time you’re building your Amazon Wish List, bare in mind the New York Times Best Seller, based on ‘cutting edge research’, will probably be archaic a year from now.

 

… Courses

If you’re looking for professional development, it is easy to see what’s buzzing (CrossFit, FMS, Zumba, etc.) and invest there.

Compare any of the above-mentioned courses to a study of weightlifting (first male world champion was crowned in 1891); powerlifting (first official meet in mid 1960s); gymnastics (roots in Ancient Greece) and Track & Field (records dating back to 776BC).

Using the LE, we can see these training methods have stood the test of time, will still be valid for at least 100 years, and arguably should be the foundation for most physical preparation programs.

Invest your time and money in learning these.

 

… Mentors

Through social media, blogs and eBooks, anyone can have a voice.

And an opinion.

And, even more scary, a following.

In the most simplistic application of the LE, choose mentors who have been around for a long time; and have a ton of practical experience (if possible, measured in decades).

At a minimum, 10 years of hands-on experience.

When evaluating experience, eliminate any position that lasted less than three years – anyone can make a difference in the short-term.

[Also exclude the ‘experience’ of a ‘consultant’ – these people tend to claim the wins, never the losses.]

 

…. Budgets

Attending university in the mid-90s, I caught the back end of the isokinetic machine movement.

Hugely popular, at one stage, some isokinetic companies had sales teams in over 40 countries!

These exorbitantly priced machines were touted as being the final answer in injury prevention, rehab and performance.

They were the way of the future.

Interestingly, I cannot recall seeing a machine since my internship year.

The point is, at one stage they were very popular and teams, universities and academies busted their budgets to get one, but now most of the younger coaches probably haven’t even seen one.

So if you have an equipment budget and your mind is going crazy with potential products you could fill facility with, adopt the Lindy Effect to eliminate buying anything (the idea, not the implement) that isn’t at least 20 years old.

You’d end up with a facility that would be filled with barbells, platforms, dumbbells, benches, chin up bars, med balls… Not bad, huh?

(A heuristic: Spend at least 90% of your budget on the ‘Tried and Tested’.)

 

… Building your Coaching Experience

Whether you need to build your résumé or looking for a place to do your prac/internship, the Lindy Effect offers guidance.

The Coaches who have lasted, who have stood the test of time, are not the ones who are best at the latest technology but those who are most probably really good with the fundamentals of coaching: building relationships with their athletes, understanding what motivates their athletes and how to get the most out of them.

So while it may be tempting to offer your time where you can gain experience in GPS tracking, workload-monitoring software and other trends, the LE suggests you might be better of actually coaching, even if it’s at a much ‘lower level’.

 

Conclusion

The Lindy Effect suggests that if an idea or concept has been around for a 100 years, it is likely to be around for another 100.

While it isn’t a ‘law’ or a ‘rule’, it is a heuristic that can help influence our decisions in the Coaching and Training realms.

Take Home Message: Stop thinking ‘What’s the latest?’ Start thinking ‘What’s lasted?’.

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