I finally dished out my eleven dollars to see Moneyball, because I just couldn’t bear to attend another party without having something to say about it. While I can now toss in my two cents at the next cocktail party, it turns out that the real lessons of Moneyball are more suited for the business world.
Here’s what I took away from the film:
Cut through the Talk
People love to talk, don’t they? And not just at parties. It’s easy to see why: It’s fun, often exciting, usually affirming, and when conducted in a work setting, it can feel as though you’re actually doing something. But you’re not. You’re just talking about doing something.
Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, recognized this phenomenon in Moneyball. Not only were the old scouts just talking, they weren’t even talking about the problem.
What’s the Problem?
Before anyone can solve a problem, they need to know what the problem is. That is not as easy as it sounds. Some might say, “The problem is what it’s always been. We need to make more money.” Picture Pitt as Beane saying, “Wrong.” Making more money for yourself or your company is not a solution; it’s a byproduct of the solution.
Ask yourself why you or your company isn’t making more money. Has the market for your product or service changed? Are new disruptive technologies reshaping the industry? What is the state of your brand?
Adapt or Die
Now that you’ve stopped talking yourself in circles and have identified your problem, it’s time to adapt. Change. Evolve. Whichever word you want to use, it won’t be easy.
It’s easy to talk about change. Have you ever heard a politician say, “You know what? Everything is fine the way it is. Elect me, and I won’t change a thing.” You haven’t, because people love to talk about possibilities, what-if scenarios, and unreached potential. Try to actually change the routine for most people, though, and you will enter a world of pain.
Ask any GM, player, manager, or ball boy of your favorite baseball team if they want to win, and—barring any behind-the-scenes bets—they’ll say yes. Beane, his fellow scouts, and A’s manager Art Howe agreed on winning, too. What they didn’t agree on was committing to Beane’s idea of adaptation. Adaptation, evolution, or any productive change is not easy. That’s because it’s often contrary to normal belief and behavior, difficult to measure, and thankless until the byproduct of the problem’s solution (revenue, wins) materializes.
It’s a Process
The ugly truth is that we all live our lives incrementally: Seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, etc. To see the effect of change, a new process must be implemented and adhered to throughout every little building block of time. You’re not going to see change right away, and that’s hard. You’ll have to resist old habits, and that’s hard. Everyone will ask you why you are doing one thing while so many others are doing another, and that’s hard too.
But just picture Billy Beane on the field saying, “It’s a process, it’s a process, it’s a process.”
Once these minute blocks of time, rich with controlled and solution-driven action, are stacked atop one another to create large chunks known as months and years, the naysayers and habit-huggers will begin to look a little less like humans, and a little more like…
John Henry, owner of the Boston Red Sox and played by Arliss Howard in Moneyball, didn’t start the evolution like Beane, but he recognized it. He saw that every team that wasn’t changing its paradigm was a “dinosaur.” In proper Red Sox fashion, Henry attempts to purchase the new technology (essentially what it was) with a sum that would have made Beane the highest paid GM in baseball history. This offer creates a new problem for Beane to solve, a problem that most people wouldn’t mind having.
Share Your Success
Whether it’s discovered that your problem is internal (e.g. culture, design, budget) or external (e.g. technology, demographics, supply costs), there is almost always a communications element that must be tacked onto the solution. Sometimes there is no problem except for a lack of effective communication itself. Either way, trumpet your innovation, establish your position as a leader, and interact with your customers. This will ensure that as you solve the correct problems with a diligent process, the dinosaurs will be revealed and eventually become extinct.
Who knows? Maybe someone will make a movie about it.