As I watched the movie “Moneyball” the other night, I realized that it holds several lessons for those of us in business. Staring Brad Pitt, Moneyball is based on the true story of Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland A’s baseball team. Beane and his side kick Peter Brand learn that by hiring under-valued players, they could win with less than 40% of the budget of their big market competitors. In the 2001-02 season, the As achieved a 20 game winning streak, an all time record.
There are seven lessons for business in the Moneyball story.
1. If you can’t win the game, change the game. Beane decided to turn all of the old rules of thumb on their head, identifying under-valued players who had great talent, but that talent wasn’t recognized.
2. Evidence Rules. Beane and Brand determined the key thing they had to do right – get on base. They then recruited underpaid, undervalued players who had the ability to get on base. How? Not by using the old school scouts rules of thumb, but by using data.
3. Ignore the Stereotypes. The players recruited by Beane and Brand were under-valued because they didn’t fit the stereotype of a baseball player, yet they performed. Fat, old, strange technique, funny looking, funny looking girl-friends, these were the reasons scouts used for ignoring the players that Beane recruited.
4. Stars don’t make teams. McKinsey’s “War for Talent” is wrong. All the “war for talent” does is create overpaid labour. Hiring stars creates two tiered workplaces, entitlement, bad attitudes, big egos and resentment. A clubhouse of “stars” just creates a lot of drama.
5. Leaders Don’t Control Everything. Beane had many constraints. The club ownership controlled the purse-strings; the team manager controlled the way the team was played on the field; and, the players controlled their own behaviour. It doesn’t work without the cooperation of everyone involved.
6. Give it a Chance to Work. The first six weeks of the season were a disaster. Nothing went right. Beane stuck to his vision in spite of severe criticism by fans and sports radio.
7. It isn’t Always a Democracy. When Art Howe, the Manager of the As, refused to play Scott Hatteberg on first base, Beane traded Howe’s preferred first base player, forcing Howe to play Hatteberg.
Moneyball is a great movie, funny, charming and inspiring. The biggest lesson of all? Leadership isn’t easy. It means taking great risks and making personal sacrifices. Leadership isn’t about the self, but about the team.