Well, the season is over for my beleaguered SF Giants, but I just got back from seeing the movie Moneyball and it was a worthy substitute for a day at the ballpark. I loved this Michael Lewis book when it came out and remember it as my all time favorite book about business. I know millions have written about Moneyball, but the movie made a big impression and reminded me why I loved the book so much so I thought I’d make a note here.
Moneyball is ostensibly about how the Oakland A’s of the early 2000’s blew up conventional baseball by adopting Sabermetrics: the art of selecting players based on statistical models instead of old-school scouting. Sabermetrics was “invented” by a guy named Bill James, who was a baseball fanatic and a security guard at a pork and beans factory. It was popularized by A’s General Manager Billy Beane, a former baseball player who failed after being hailed as a golden boy prospect on the field. As the story unfolds, it appears Beane has virtually lost his mind after losing in the play-offs and sets to work building next year’s team in the image of the “Island of Misfit Toys” rather than by recruiting players the scouts recommend.
Beane goes all in on this newfound concept, relying on the work of a just-out-of-Yale statistics nerd and ignoring the conventional wisdom of his long-standing colleagues, who all abandon him in the process; they adopt an “every man for himself” mentality as they perceive a ship on it’s way to the iceberg.
At first it is an unmitigated disaster, although it quickly becomes clear why: Beane has emotionally bought into the new way of doing business but he has not created an environment in which it can thrive. When he does, by clearing the obstacles from his path (mostly nay-sayers and people who benefit by seeing him fail), the A’s go on to have the longest winning streak in the history of baseball. While they do not win the World Series (and still have not to Beane’s chagrin), they have made history and change the course of baseball forever. Two years later the Boston Red Sox, riding Beane’s philosophical wave (and despite failing to recruit him as General Manager), break the Curse of the Bambino and win the World Series for the first time in 86 years.
While told as a “baseball” story, it really isn’t. Moneyball is straight up about great leadership. It’s lessons apply to virtually everything in life: sports, business, politics, parenting, relationships, you name it. As I think through the story after having watched Brad Pitt act it out (which enhances it immeasurably; Beane isn’t bad looking, but he’s got nothing on Brad Pitt), it seems to me that there are six big takeaway messages that are well-suited to be a great mantra for any would-be entrepreneur:
- Always be open to the new idea, especially when it flies in the face of conventional wisdom;
- Great genius can come from unexpected places–don’t be too smug or over-confident to notice it
- Keep learning and be unafraid to ignore your own conventional wisdom about yourself
- Spend your energy on reaching the goal and don’t worry about who gets the credit
- It matters how you treat people
- When your gut and your data align and you are convinced you are doing the right thing, see it through; don’t throw in the towel too early–it takes time to overcome inertia.
Actually, there was a seventh great message in the story, which is always choose family over work when faced with that choice. I think a lot of people forget that one and do so at their peril.
If you never read Moneyball the book and you are a businessperson, you should (or at least see the movie, which is really well done). It beats any Harvard case study any day of the week. Great leadership is the most important quality in virtually any venture, more important than experience, money and process virtually all of the time. In a field such as mine where we spend much of our time looking for and hiring executive talent, that is a lesson not to be missed.
I always hate it when baseball season ends. Already counting down to opening day 2012!