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While the winter holidays are always the perfect time to disconnect from work and enjoy time with family and friends, it usually comes at the price of a somewhat painful return to our work lives. To help reduce the stress, we’ve decided to start a new tradition and kick off the year with a good movie or two. Since it had to be something both entertaining and inspiring, we chose to go with a classic – Moneyball, the 2011 film starring Brad Pitt.
Based on true events, it tells the story of Billy Bean, General Manager for the Oakland Athletics baseball team, who started using sabermetrics, an empirical analysis of baseball that uses statistics to improve team performance. Using this new approach, Bean propelled Oakland Athletics from a low-performing team to a spectacular success that shocked the sports world. They were able to rise from what looked like a slow but certain death to a spectacular series of successes with the team winning a whopping 20 consecutive games. Here’s what we’ve learned from watching it:
Lesson 1: Learn to embrace change (especially when it’s the only option)
The movie reminded us that change is never easy and, many times it comes as the last resort – an option that is unpopular, unwanted and fraught with dangers. The story does not portray Bean as the visionary who chose to take a new path because he’s bored with the comfort of always doing the same things. He does it because the team was sinking, and it had become clear to him that going along with the old strategy would not get them anywhere. To him, it felt like the only option.
Whether you are managing a sports team, a marketing or an engineering one, there will come a time when what seems like a big change could help reach daring goals. It’s not always going to come as a last resort (hopefully!) so the ability to spot opportunities and to take risks becomes a key skill that you can and should develop. If you are lucky, you might get plenty of time and opportunities to practice before being confronted with a radical situation. So, when was the last time you took a risk with your team? – switching to a new tool, changing the way you hold meetings, or looking at your team’s performance in a different light?
Lesson 2: There’s magic in numbers
“People are overlooked for a variety of biased reasons and perceived flaws. Age, appearance, personality. […] mathematics cut straight through that.” (Peter Brand, Moneyball). While the movie focuses on how the Oakland Athletics’ use of statistics helped shape a winning team and triggered some revolutionary changes in the world of baseball at the time, it’s usually the same in business also. No manager can afford to ignore the numbers. Whether you are looking at sales reports, financial projections, or a potentially new team structure – you are most likely making business decisions based on thorough analysis and not gut feeling. While managing a team of people is far more challenging than putting together a financial report, using stats to keep track of work volumes, project progress, and each team member’s contribution can be immensely valuable.
Lesson 3: Others will surely follow (but probably not when you need them to)
There’s a powerful moment towards the end of the movie where the owner of the Boston Red Sox baseball team, realizing that sabermetrics will be the future of the game, says to Bean “I know you’ve taken it in the teeth out there, but (you are) the first guy through the wall. It always gets bloody, always. It’s the threat of not just the way of doing business, but in their minds, it’s threatening the game. […] And every time that happens, whether it’s the government or a way of doing business or whatever it is, the people are holding the reins, have their hands on the switch”. Changes are scary and feel threatening to everyone, not just to the ones making them, so expect resistance from all sides. Eventually, others will follow, but only after they see that it works and that it was the right thing to do. After witnessing the amazing results that the Oakland Athletics were able to achieve, many others followed and using sabermetrics became the norm for many teams.
Only two years after Billy Bean refused Boston Red Sox’ offer to join them as the general manager for a whopping $12.5 million salary, the Red Sox won the World Series using the strategy that he helped model. There’s clearly a lesson in that but we’ll let you ponder what it could be.
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