30 October 2014

The Kind of Guys You Go to War With

Though I finished Moneyball during the early Fall (a perfect time to think about baseball)-- I wasn't really reading a baseball book.

Its author, Michael Lewis, was no doubt fascinated by the sport. It's hard not to be for Bay Area resident, I suppose. But Lewis made his name as a financial writer, and his previous book was about an eccentric tech entrepreneur named Jim Clark, who founded Netscape and took it public in 1996.

When I first started teaching at an entrepreneurial charter school network in 2005, our hyper-creative management team recommended Moneyball as a textbook for understand data-driven decision-making.

What could any of that have to do with military operations? At its essence, the bestselling baseball book is probably more appropriate as a case study about how to approach classic problems in new ways. And the military always has classic problems.

A few insights from the way Billy Beane made the underdog Oakland A's one of the most competitive teams in Major League baseball are appropriate for leaders in all organizations-- particularly the Army.

Beane Took a Unique View
When one of the Oakland Athletics' outfielders asked his team for a desk job in 1990, management was perplexed. The GM, Sandy Alderson, was brilliant-- an Ivy League lawyer and former Marine-- and decided to include Billy Beane in on his new style of mangement. So he hired Beane, who in turn tried to learn everything he could about running and organization from Alderson, who didn't have much of a history with the particular organization he was trying to transform. By 1997 Bean was the general manager. 

Bill James was the godfather of sabermetrics, an insurgent movement caused baseball as a social club to become more exclusive and defensive for a while. But Beane didn't let his pedigree as a blue-chip baseball recruit and young athletic phenom, or his status as the general managers of a storied and successful baseball franchise to prevent him from looking at the social club form the perspective of an outsider. He was the ultimate insider, but chose to break the rules. 

Too many leaders get conservative once they are put into a position to actually make a change. Beane has enacted certain rules to prevent him from becoming a victim to caution and conservatism:
  • No matter how successful you are change is good.
  • The day you say you have to do something, you're screwed.
  • Know exactly what every baseball player is worth to you.
  • Know exactly who you want to acquire and go after him.
  • Ignore the newspapers.
The third and fourth rules might not have much bearing to organization generally, or the Army in particular (though they certainly might). But one, two, and five seem like they could be chapters in a Peter Drucker book.

Change is good. If nothing more, forcing change requires leaders to perpetually assess strengths, weaknesses, assets, and capabilities.

Hatteberg the Mindful
Lewis uses the word, "thoughtful" to describe how Hatteberg approached hitting. As a Red Sox, Hatteberg was frustrated by his team's preference for aggressive, reckless hitting, rather than his predisposition to bat informed and patient.

The most reliable organizations rely on the Hatteberg types, at least when it comes to high-stakes operations. Scholars call it "mindfulness," rather than "thoughtfulness," but it describes the same thing-- purposiveness and deliberation. These are the hallmarks of getting things done. When Soldiers are at their best, they are mindful.

Scott Hatteberg was the epitome of Oakland's system, which was implementing a plan and executing it systematically.

Guys You Go to War With
And about Hatteberg, he became a pretty good first baseman, despite the fact that he was scared to death standing there. One of Oakland's coaches, Ron Washington, was skeptical that the former catcher could turn himself into a respectable baseman. Writes Lewis:
Wash what he made of the transformation of Scott Hatteberg into an above-average first baseman, he just shook his head and smiled. "He made a liar of me," he said. "Now he goes out and does what he does and he's a ballplayer, reacting." Then he'd think about it for a moment and say, "These are the kind of guys you go to war with. The Scott Hattebergs."
Would you go to war with Scott Hatteberg because he could catch balls and tag runners out at first? Maybe. But Washington would go to war with him because he could put his mind to getting the mission done. He didn't dwell in his weaknesses, but worked hard to overcome them. The best leaders get guys to do this every day, and the best Soldiers make a lifestyle out of it.

This is likely my last Moneyball post, but I'll read it again and again.

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