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The Moneyball Approach: Do You Have It?

With the Academy Awards more than a month behind us and the beginning of baseball season upon us, I thought it was the perfect time to do a post on “Moneyball” and the lessons this 6-time Oscar nominee has for us. I loved the movie for a number of reasons: 1). baseball 2). statistics and 3). the underdog finds a way to change the paradigm and win.

Billy Beane: Where did you go to school?
Peter Brand: Yale, I went to Yale.
Billy Beane: What did you study?
Peter Brand: Economics. I studied Economics.
Billy Beane: Yale, Economics, baseball. You’re funny, Pete.

As you’ve heard me say before, talent can come from unlikely places. It can also come in unlikely combinations. Are you only listening to the voices of people who have the experience, the resume, the insider’s perspective? Sometimes those same experts may have a limited vantage point or they may have bought into the way things have always been done. Are you looking beyond a traditional approach to your business?

Billy Beane: Yeah. Pack your bags, Pete. I just bought you from the Cleveland Indians.

I love what led up to this line. Billy Beane, in his meeting with the Cleveland Indians, watched for who had influence in the room. As it turns out, it  was not the person with the title, the one sitting behind the desk, or the one with the seniority. Billy Beane had gone there to improve his team with a trade. He saw and seized an opportunity to improve it in a different way and brought in an unconventional adviser in Peter Brand. Where are you looking for expertise? It could be that they’re already on your staff, and you haven’t discovered their talent. Or it may mean that you need to keep your eyes open as you go to meetings, conferences, and other events. It’s quite possible that the key employee to put your organization over the top may be in an office down the street, across town, or across the country; and it may be in a role you weren’t originally looking to fill. Is your organization nimble enough to find the right talent and adapt to a changing competitive landscape?

[first day in his job]
Peter Brand: Hey, Billy. I wanted you to see these player evaluations that you asked me to do.
[he hands Billy the document]
Billy Beane: I asked you to do three.
Peter Brand: Yeah.
Billy Beane: To evaluate three players?
Peter Brand: Yeah.
Billy Beane: How many did you do?
Peter Brand: Forty seven.
Billy Beane: Okay.
Peter Brand: Actually, fifty one. I don’t know why I lied just there.

Are you surrounding yourself with overachievers? I don’t mean workaholics or people who just stay late at the office because they’re avoiding something else. I’m talking about people who love what they do, and it’s in their DNA to do more- more than the minimum, more than what’s asked. They can’t not do it. Identify those people, give them the resources they need, and they’ll take your organization far.

Billy Beane: He gets on base!
John Poloni: So he walks a lot.
Billy Beane: He gets on base a lot. Do I care if it’s a walk or a hit?
[looks over at Peter]
Billy Beane: Pete?
Peter Brand: You do not.
Billy Beane: I do not.

What will bring success to your organization? How can you reframe challenges you face? Can a better result be brought about in a different way? Do you see possibilities or only obstacles?

Grady Fuson: No. Baseball isn’t just numbers, it’s not science. If it was then anybody could do what we’re doing, but they can’t because they don’t know what we know. They don’t have our experience and they don’t have our intuition.
Billy Beane: Okay.
Grady Fuson: Billy, you got a kid in there that’s got a degree in Economics from Yale. You got a scout here with twenty nine years of baseball experience. You’re listening to the wrong one. Now there are intangibles that only baseball people understand. You’re discounting what scouts have done for a hundred and fifty years, even yourself!

I think I’ve covered this. I’m not trying to discount experience here, but when you’re smug about it or you’ve gotten past the place of being teachable, you’re already losing. Don’t accept this in yourself or those you work with. Force yourself to be teachable, to look at problems from a different perspective.

Billy Beane: Yes, you’re right. I may lose my job, in which case I’m a forty four year old guy with a high school diploma and a daughter I’d like to be able to send to college. You’re twenty five years old with a degree from Yale and a pretty impressive apprenticeship. I don’t think we’re asking the right question. I think the question we should be asking is, do you believe in this thing or not?
Peter Brand: I do.
Billy Beane: It’s a problem you think we need to explain ourselves. Don’t. To anyone.
Peter Brand: Okay.
Billy Beane: Now, we’re gonna see this thing through, for better or worse.

Do you believe in this thing or not? That’s a question we should be asking ourselves and our staff regularly. Do you have a well-formulated plan? Do you have confidence in it despite the doubts and critics? Do you have the fortitude to stick it out, even if the end result isn’t what you desired?

Billy Beane: Everybody, listen up! You may not look like a winning team, but you are one. So, play like one tonight.

Are you instilling confidence in your team? Have you envisioned where they’re going, even when they can’t or haven’t yet? Are you asking them to focus on the task in front of them, knowing that success in the next project leads to long-term success?

Billy Beane: David, you’re thirty seven. How about you and I be honest about what each of us want out of this? I wanna milk the last ounce of baseball you got in you and you wanna stay in the show. Let’s do that. I’m not paying you for the player you used to be, I’m paying you for the player you are right now. You’re smart, you get what we’re trying to do here. Make an example for the younger guys, be a leader. Can you do that?
David Justice: Alright. I got you.
Billy Beane: We’re cool?
David Justice: We’re cool.

Do you understand what motivates your team members? Each person is looking to get something different from their employment arrangement with your organization. They may also be at different points in their careers. Are you providing them with learning or mentorship opportunities? Do they have significant input on decisions? Are you giving them the level of responsibility they want? Do they desire more flexibility in their position or working hours? Honest communication with staff will go a long way in creating a positive work environment and enhancing employee productivity and loyalty.

What lessons do you see in “Moneyball”?

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