Authored by Christiane Montuori on Thursday, October 6, 2011 at 6:48 AM | Add the first comment!
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Saw Moneyball Sunday. Already read the book. And am a baseball junkie and have been a hardcore member of Red Sox Nation since going to my first game at Fenway in, ugh, 1947 (although they may have lost some of that unconditional love with their sorry lack of this team play this year).
I never expected the movie to be anything more than cinematic eye candy. It turns out to be as good an example I’ve ever seen of adaptive leadership at work. Thanks to an alert from my colleague Mary Hekl, I was looking for the connections.
You probably know the outlines of the story. In late 2001, Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt, who appears to be trying hard to be Robert Redford at this stage of his career) is the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics, who had just lost in the fifth game of the first round of the playoffs to the Yankees. Not long after the season ended, three of the team’s stars, all free agents, had signed with other teams.
Beane meets with his crew of player scouts who are focused on replacing the lost talent. Beane realizes that doing business the way they have always done business is not going to produce a different result, especially for a small market team that cannot compete with the big market and big spending teams like the Red Sox and Yankees, who can pay whatever it takes to attract the players they want. Beane decides he is going to use sophisticated statistical analysis to identify unheralded and underrated players who can be signed on the cheap.
If you haven’t seen the film, here are five snippets to whet your appetite for the adaptive leadership lessons it embodies.
First, early on he re-frames the challenge. “We are asking the wrong question,” he says to the scouts. The challenge, he argues, is not to replace the lost talent, but to win more games. That’s a very different way of thinking about the problem because it focuses attention on how games are won, not on players who can re-produce the particular production of the players who left.
Second, the veteran scouts determinedly hold on to past practices that have worked for them for years. Sitting around a table, they cite over and over the qualities they look for and cling to the skills and insights that they have honed and that have made them successful as if those ways of judging talent were the only way to do their work. (Tip of the cap to my friend Reggie Feltman for this one.)
Third, “Adapt or die!” In one dramatic moment, Beane screams this mantra, which says it all.
Fourth, interpret the resistance as a sign of progress. Late in the film, Boston Red Sox owner John Henry invites Beane to Fenway Park in Boston to offer him the position of General Manager of the team. In the course of the conversation, Henry does a monologue about how people cling to the status quo because it is familiar and tries to convince Beane that the pushback he has received so many of baseball’s establishment is a predictable consequence of leading deep change.
Fifth, distinguish technical problems from adaptive challenges. Beane repeatedly talks about his goal not as winning the World Series, but as, in his words, “doing something meaningful” by “changing the game.” Beane knows that there are many ways to create a terrific baseball team, but that is primarily a technical problem and that if his focus on new statistics can affect the way talent is assessed, he can change the nature of the way the game is played, an adaptive challenge if there ever was one.
Billy Beane, practitioner of adaptive leadership. Hats off to you, even if my beloved Red Sox stole your ideas and won two World Series with them, while your beloved Oakland A’s have yet to make it to the Series during your time at the helm.