Of Billy Beane, Baseball and Becoming Transformative
Everyone loves a winner. That’s true in business, baseball and life. But, as is true with baseball, winning isn’t a sure thing — no one has the right answer. It’s what you do with the information you’ve got that can make the difference between making the right decisions and driving your business (or your team) to an early grave.
So why the talk of baseball? Putting aside the fact that pitchers and catchers have reported for spring training practice and I’m counting down the days until opening day at Yankee Stadium, there’s a certain movie in this year’s Oscars mix that defines the idea of using information at your disposal to make winning decisions. And the subject of that movie was the keynote speaker at this week’s Avnet + Cisco Executive Symposium in Phoenix.
Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland A’s and main character of the hit movie “Moneyball,” brought his not-so-much-anymore-a-secret to building a winning baseball team on a budget to attendees of the three-day event, the theme of which was “The Art of Business Transformation.” It was a fitting discussion — Beane, who uses statistical analysis and a concept called sabermetrics to save money in the recruiting process, has changed the way many teams select players. It’s also changed the way many view baseball in general.
And that is the same mindset Avnet and Cisco were hawking these past few days: VARs and solution providers have to start looking at how they run their business and make changes to accommodate new technologies that don’t fit the mold of the standard hardware-based business model. If they don’t, they will fail. That means shifting the mindset — and maybe even the infrastructure — to embrace a solutions focus, looking at what customers need and helping them as they transform their business.
Reflecting on how he and his assistant Paul DePodesta transformed the business of baseball, Beane went through the basics and threw up some official-looking statistical charts showing information such as a pitcher’s performance relative to his expected salary. (Being a journalism major in college my first response was one of eyes glazing over at the sight of math, but that’s another story for another time.) The charts seemed to bear out Beane’s and DePodesta’s truism that the math doesn’t lie.
I must admit to not having seen the movie (although it’s not because I haven’t wanted to) or read the book (although I won an autographed copy, so I know what I’ll be reading on the flight home), but Beane was convincing in his humor-laden, somewhat simplistic explanation in his success: Listen to what the numbers are telling you. And that, as we all well know, is true in any business.