Monday, September 26, 2011

The lesson of Moneyball

The Lesson of Moneyball...

I read the book when it came out. I didn’t read it because anyone said it was good. I didn’t read it because I thought it would be particularly interesting. I read it because I was flying home from Florida and I didn’t have a book and it was the only one I saw on the non-fiction rack at the airport bookstore that looked remotely interesting. I read the whole thing that night on the plane. It changed the way I think. I saw the movie this weekend and it did the same thing all over. Here’s why.

For those who haven’t read the book or seen the movie the story of Moneyball is pretty simple. Billy Beane is the coach of the small market Oakland A’s. He’s tasked with fielding a team that is competitive in spite of a payroll that is a fraction of his competition’s. His scouts and advisors try to do it the old fashioned way and he knows it won’t work. In a chance meeting with Peter Brand, he discovers a new way.

The story isn’t really about baseball. It is about taking chances. It is about knocking over the apple cart to see if there isn’t a better way to stack the fruit. It is about trying to understand the real cause and effect relationships that make the difference between success and failure and then when you discover they’re different than you or anyone else thought they were, it is about having the courage of your convictions.

The hardest part of this for any business, large or small, is deciding to try to look at the business and its key drivers in a new way. There is a great line in the movie when Beane asks Peter Brand (his out of the box thinking advisor and assistant GM) what he is doing that is so different. Brand says, ‘you guys spend all your time trying to draft players, I think you should be drafting wins.’ It turns out he’s right and when they adopt this method and make the hard decisions about fielding the team accordingly they start to win.

Spoiler alert, if you want to see the picture and you haven’t seen it yet stop reading here...

The team wins 20 in a row. They become the first major league team to do so. Then they lose in the playoffs to the Twins. There are two ways to measure success. There is the ultimate success, a world series win, wealth beyond your wildest dreams, etc. Then there is practical success. In the world of major league baseball the simple fact is that the team with the most talent in all areas is likely to win. They have to put it all together and there are a lot of variables but at some point the math just works that way. So are Beane and Brand failures because the A’s are eliminated in the ALCS playoffs? No. The fact is they should never have gotten to the playoffs at all. To get there they had to beat teams with payrolls many times their size. For the A’s success is a competitive season, not a World Series ring.

You have to measure success the same way in your market and if you are unhappy with what you can potentially achieve, then you have to change your market altogether. That’s a story for another day. From this story the big question is, are you asking the right questions? Are you sure?

Onward ...

1 comment:

Tanya Malott, Photographer said...

I should be able to comment more intelligently tomorrow. We are taking my 13 year old to the movie is his birthday, and this is the most fun we can have on a school night.

Yesterday, I had lunch with one of the few people I know here in Atlanta...a photographer (of interiors, not weddings). We are both dying to bust out of our boxes and do things differently, because the same old same old is not only boring, but it feels like a financial and creative dead end.

I'll let you know how my thinking shifts, though I can tell you the process has been underway for at least a year now.