Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Negotiation, Not Scott Boras Style -- Part II:
Where to Start, Where Not to End  

Negotiation is a vital requisite to safely reaching First Base in the Management by Baseball Model (operational management). To be good at it, you need to have strengths in the skill sets required for Second Base (understanding people) and Third Base (self-awareness), too.

It's a useful life skill for anyone, but mandatory for anyone who's either a manager or planning to be one. If you "just don't do that", then there's roughly a 0% chance you can be an adequate manager.

Negotiation is not magic. It's not scary once you realize it's a big garage shelf area of tools and four basic concepts anyone who successfully survived 6th grade can grasp and muddle through. I have a favorite book I recommend for Negotiation 100 -- it's Negotiation - The Art of Getting What You Want by Michael Schatzki with Wayne Coffey, a Signet paperback that's out of print but you'll find in good used book stores or your library. Aside: Don't you just hate loaning a book to someone who promised to get it back and doesn't, and in the meantime, you've forgotten who it is you loaned it to and you're really frelled because it's out of print? End of Lewis Black Moment. My copy is on loan at the moment, so I will paraphrase their terminology but present the basic concept.

Start a negotiation with a Maximum Supportable Position (MSP) & a Minimum Acceptable Result (MAR). The MSP is the best possible case that's supported by data or common sense and the needs of your antagonist across the table. The MAR is the least beneficial outcome that's still worth accepting as a final outcome. You start a negotiation having researched both fully, and because you know the MAR in advance and stick to it, you never allow an emotional moment compromise your ability to walk away below that. And if you start with anything less than a solid MSP, you're not going to do as well for your side as you should.

The MSP and the MAR act as defined poles for the range of possible outcomes, and this turns negotiation into mapped, known arena..

One of Scott Boras' big "tricks" is no trick at all. It's the mastery of the MSP, the maximum arguable position. Now when I build an MSP, I like to be able to argue it with a straight face. Boras pushes the model farther than I do, either because

(a) he knows less about baseball players than I do (unlikely),
(b) he's better than I am at keeping a straight face through an overstated argument, or
(c) he doesn't care about keeping a straight face.

According to this Denver Post article pointed out by Baseball Think Factory's Baseball Primer:

Beltran's relative youth, 27, and heroic playoff performances have Boras seeking a 10-year contract. He doesn't say this, but his notebook gives it away.

Teams with the purchasing power to bid on Beltran - a group that figures to expand beyond the New York Yankees, Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs - are presented two sets of projections. The first suggests what Beltran's numbers should look like when he's 37, or 10 years from now. The second is what Beltran's totals could look like at 40.

If Beltran can maintain his averages of the past four seasons, he should have 436 homers, 562 steals and 2,695 hits at age 37. Give him three more years, and Beltran would have 3,208 hits, 523 homers, 673 steals and a plaque with your team's cap in Cooperstown.

These projections are listed along with the lifetime totals of other center field greats such as Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Ty Cobb. Lo and behold, Beltran is on pace to become, stats-wise, the greatest center fielder. "When owners see these names, then it starts to click," Boras said. "They start to realize what kind of player we're dealing with. I tell them, 'Now do you understand why I'm placing a premium on this guy?' I say: 'This isn't what Scott Boras says. This is what the facts are."'

This is Boras' MSP -- that Beltrán, if he could maintain the pace he set over over four years, three of them in an extraordinary hitter's home park he no longer calls home, for another 10 years, he'd have Hall of Fame type numbers and if he could do until he's 40 years old (13 more years) he'd be in the Willie Mays stratosphere. This MSP is an overreach.

If you follow sabermetrics much, you know that a significant majority of individual players have their peak season at either age 27 or 28. After that age, there are some skills that advance (homer power for a fair number of the better players), but overall value goes down. You may also know there's a tool used to track careers called similarity scores. If you know about them already, skip the rest of this paragraph, but if you don't please read it because this tool has a lot of application beyond baseball. Baseball players fall into certain loose patterns. Some are just darned logical (as a player ages he will probably gain weight, losing some speed and gaining some power). But some are statistical symptoms of specific patterns of abilities. With the exclusion of exceptional individuals like Ty Cobb and Ted Williams, Mays and Mantle, players have sets of strengths and weaknesses that express themselves in a certain limited set of variations. Luck and environment can help or hinder the basic achievements of like individuals, but like patterns create like results, and players with like results tend to have similar career trajectories. Beyond baseball, this concept has a lot of application. Even within fairly diverse endeavors (law firms, military strategy, franchisors, auto repair shops, family farms) there are handfuls of behaviors that make most individual operations fall into similarity clusters. As in baseball, there are a few extraordinary Larry Burrights or Rob "Oxymoronic" Deers or Buzz Arletts but a majority of individual operations that have survived will have succeeded because of a set of talents that express themselves as a group with a set of similar behaviors.

But there's no evidence to support Beltrán will end up in the same batting heavens as Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle, because players don't hit for 10 consecutive years the way they did for the four years leading up to their age 27 year.

Here are some of Beltrán's hitting stats over his major league career (and then we'll look at some most-similar players to see what happened to their careers after they turned 28):

 1998 KAN 58 12 16 5 3 0 7 3 12 3 0 .276 .317 .466 .783
 1999 KAN 663 112 194 27 7 22 108 46 123 27 8 .293 .337 .454 .791
 2000 KAN 372 49 92 15 4 7 44 35 69 13 0 .247 .309 .366 .675
 2001 KAN 617 106 189 32 12 24 101 52 120 31 1 .306 .362 .514 .876
 2002 KAN 637 114 174 44 7 29 105 71 135 35 7 .273 .346 .501 .847
 2003 KAN 521 102 160 14 10 26 100 72 81 41 4 .307 .389 .522 .911
 2004 KAN 266 51 74 19 2 15 51 37 44 14 3 .278 .367 .534 .901
 2004 HOU 333 70 86 17 7 23 53 55 57 28 0 .258 .368 .559 .926
 Career   3467 616 985 173 52 146 569 371 641 192 23 .284 .353 .490 .844

Lots to recommend it, especially his season split last year with Kansas City & Houston. At 38 homers, his best season ever, and split between two parks that weren't particularly generous last year. His stealing ratio makes him one of the rare individuals in the 21st century who steals a lot of bases at such a very high success rate that his stealing actually has solid value in helping his team score runs. And no stats to support his fielding, but like Mays and Mantle and DiMaggio, his stats argue he's a very good outfielder.

According to Beltrán's profile at Baseball-Reference, these are the Most Similar batters to him at his current age:

Similar Batters through Age 27

  1. Andre Dawson (947)
  2. Bobby Bonds (943)
  3. Dave Winfield (938) *
  4. Jack Clark (936)
  5. Gus Bell (928)
  6. Shawn Green (925)
  7. Harold Baines (923)
  8. Reggie Smith (923)
  9. Gary Sheffield (921)
  10. Johnny Callison (919)

Dawson and Winfield and Baines played into their 40s (as Boras asked his antagonists to imagine Beltrán would). The rest of the retired ones made it into their middle 30s. Dawson is the closest to Beltrán; let's take a quick look at his final totals. As Boras said, Beltrán if he got to age 40 would project out to 3,208 hits, 523 homers, 673 steals. Andre Dawson lasted until he was 41, and finished with 2,774 hits, 438 homers, 314 steals. But if you had projected out Dawson's age 24, 25, 26 and 27 seasons out another 10 years, Dawson would have finished with numbers comparable to Boras' MSP for Beltrán: 3,110 hits, 419 Homers, 626 steals. The same numbers in more tabular form look like this:

  Hits HRs SBs
Beltrán at 27 - Actual 985 146 192
Dawson at 27 - Actual 978 133 184
Beltrán at 40 - Boras Est. 3,208 523 673
Dawson at 40 - Boras Est 3,110 419 626
Dawson at 40 - Actual 2,758 436 314
Dawson Actual v. Boras -11% +4% -49%

His last six seasons, he didn't have a single season that was as good as his career average. This is a key point. Dawson was a remakably gifted athlete, and he still had his last season that lifted his career averages at age 35, the age around which similar dudes, Bobby Bonds, Gus Bell, Reggie Smith and Johnny Callison retired.

Dawson's career was exceptionally good, but his career trajectory, the shape of his output, is normal, with the late 20s peak, more home run power, a tail off in speed-based accomplishments, and a decline to retirement.

Here's the same table for Dave Winfield, another similarity buddy, but with a more-acknowledged career that got him into the Hall of Fame.

  Hits HRs SBs
Beltrán at 27 - Actual 985 146 192
Winfield at 27 - Actual 980 134 153
Beltrán at 40 - Boras Est. 3,208 523 673
Winfield at 40 - Boras Est 2,866 446 370
Winfield at 40 - Actual 3,110 432 218
Winfield Actual v. Boras -8% -3% -41%

Winfield is transcendant. His rigid Boras projection almost dovetails with his career actuals. In his last six seasons he did have one season, his 1988 season at age 36, that was better than his career average. While I think Beltrán's skill set more closely approximates Dawson's at the same age, Winfield makes for a great MSP argument, and you can even show the rubes Winfield's projections to support the idea that a player can have 13 consecutive seasons pretty much like his age 24 - 27 seasons, and a trip to Cooperstown when he does.

If I was Beltrán's agent, I'd make that Winfield argument. Boras has chosen DiMaggio and Mays and Mantle, a big reach based on a rigid formula.

Before a serious negotiation, I try to analyse and build my antagonist's MSP. If I was sitting across the table from Boras, I wouldn't bite. I would have an instant alert that his initial stance was outside the range of "Supportable", a good indicator that he either was ignorant (which he isn't) or looking for a win-lose deal (he gets at least as much satisfaction from having the feeling he's pulled one over on me as he does getting to a good end result for himself).

In your own negotiations, you can use the Michael Schatzki model to excellent use. The wonderful thing about his book is that his techniques are not complex or difficult to understand. You still need to do your homework, study and understand people and control your own impluses, but the basic tools for success are right there. I can't recommend his book strongly enough for managers who don't have any serious negotation training.

And if you end up across the table from Scott Boras or one of his cognitive cousins, you'll have your own MSP and MAR in pace and won't wake up one morning, like Tom "Other People's Money" Hicks and the all-time record 10-year contract on your hands.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Negotiation, Scott Boras Style -- Part I:
Bucking an Industry's Gravitational Field  

In a recent entry, I discussed player agent Scott Boras marketing his clients the most aggressive way he can, all the time. I guess it's just the season for Scott Boras, not exactly The Prince of Peace in his profession. Boras is successful as a baseball player agent, while being entirely different in the approach he takes from all the other baseball player agents I know about. All the rest make use of the natural gravitational field inherent in a system that is mostly closed (30 teams, 750 big-league roster spots)

In a closed system like baseball (or other industries with few competitors, such as automobile manufacturing or integrated oil companies, or postage-meter machine makers or overnight delivery services or industries where groupthink is very strong, such as commercial book publishing) competition may be fierce, but everyone tends to know everyone else. If you sold Ford brake sub-assemblies, for example, and they were sub-standard, you could still market your product to Chrysler or G.M., but they'd know all about you, maybe more than you knew about yourself. If, as a book agent, you did a magnificent job negotiating a giant advance for your author of a book that tanked, that publisher, and many others who knew editors at that house, might look upon you and your clients' work with a little disfavor, putting you at a competitive disadvantage.

These are pretty closed systems and there's a natural evolution in closed systems like these to favor buyers a little over sellers, and to get clannish, and for sellers' agents to become almost neutral parties instead of seller's advocates.

The clannish industry model agent will, to varying degrees, still be focused on giving really fine customer service. The ambiguity that will undermine that agent is: ¿Who is her customer -- seller or buyer?

To continue doing business, the agent does need to make a good deal for the client, but at the same time, he needs to be very delicate about not eroding the interests of the buyer either, because that could affect how easy it is to make the next 60 deals. Players (book authors, etc.) have short careers that occupy only a small proportion of any individual team's (publisher's, etc.) budget during the life of that career. And agent's career can go on a longer time.

So it's a natural gravitational field that tugs baseball player agents towards long-term thinking (meaning the party across the table is almost as much of a customer as the client). The standard model for the agent is to defend her client's interests, but only to the degree that it doesn't reduce her ability to negotiate many subsequent deals easily with the buyer. Too much success in extracting money from closed system buyers erodes the seller's agent's ability to go back to that buyer and any other buyers who share clan ties with that buyer.

If you're inclined to view things mathematically, imagine a system where the standard deal is $4 MM and your take is 5% as an agent. You cleverly negotiate a $9 MM deal for your client (let's call him Charlie Maxwell), who really performs like a $4 MM or even $5 MM player. Players view you as a genius at first. But you erode your ability to negotiate for your other clients, not only with that specific team (they have more of their designated budget already invested in your other client), but with other teams, too, who might be concerned about getting taken while in a negotiation with you. You might get stuck with middle-of-the-road players who, because they don't get signed early in the cycle, don't get as much money because demand for medium players is rarely hysterical, and other, presumed to be easier to sign medium players are snapped up, reducing demand. Your next $4 MM player might have carry the burden of anxiety waiting to the last minuet to get his deal, or perhaps have to settle for $2.5 MM. So the norm is to smooth edgy bargaining in the interests of simplifying the agent's task and the buyer's task.

It's not the pure Schumpeter form of market many young business people imagine is the norm when they get their MBAs. This clannish system is far more prevalent than most know.

The standard business model for agents is helping the client, but not too much, especially if they plan to stay in the business for a while. It strips out some of the fear buyers have, which eases and speeds negotiation, and perhaps makes them willing to occasionally cut the agent some slack during a tough negotiation because of some past yielding on the agent's part.

So, to some degree, the player-agent part of the equation is primarily closed market. There are a stable of steady agents, a few who come and go. But the survivors mostly operate within the clannish social structure.

And what happens when the norm is deals that appear to the sellers as "sweetheart deals" or "company union" arrangement? Dissatisfaction, a sense that their not getting the respect they merit, or perhaps just that there's money left on the table.

It opens up an opportunity for some agent who chooses to operate differently. Someone who ties self-interest directly to the seller and not at all to the buyer. This will attract sellers who weigh the short-term benefits against the longer ones (just as the agent does on first blush) to sign up.

So you can see the obvious limiting factor to this, the Boras take-no-prisoners model...

Your medium players are at a comparative disadvantage to other agents' medium players because teams would rather deal with other, more clannish, agents.

So to make this work, not only do you have to get players to want to come to you for representation, you need to get really fine, exceptional players to come to you. According to this Denver Post article pointed out by Baseball Think Factory's Baseball Primer:

Once a good-hitting, defensively challenged infielder, Boras was at Double-A in 1978 when he gave up the dream.

His mediocrity as a performer, however, may have led to a preoccupation with the game's greatest players. There are 750 major-league players, yet Boras limits his stash to about 65. Each is an enormous star, such as Alex Rodriguez and Beltran; or once had the potential to become a star, such as St. Louis' Rick Ankiel or the Rockies' oft-injured Jason Young; or was a former star, such as Rockies catcher Charles Johnson.

"We're selective," Boras said. "We're not for everybody. And not everybody's for us. We're looking obviously for the most skilled players. And we're looking for discipline and players who want to take information and want to improve themselves."

He has been able to draw many of the most talented, business-aggressive players because he's known for unleashing market-busting deals (like Alex Rodriguez' reported 10-year quarter-of-a-bmillion dollar deal with the Texas Rangers back in 2000). Players who equate respect with relative pay gravitate to Boras because he can deliver. And what tactics does he use? The Post story also says:

"When you have multiple premium free agents, you can control the timing of the offseason," former New York Mets general manager Steve Phillips said. "The one thing he has started to do is he is declaring what the market is before the market plays out. {SNIP}

"We have a system," commissioner Bud Selig said. "As long as people operate within that system, the legalities of it, then there's no problem. Other than that, I never comment on any particular agent. I don't think it's fair for me to do so."

Boras said he has never met with Selig despite numerous invitations from the commissioner. No need to hear Selig's spiel on the impoverished state of baseball when Boras already has secured the financial statements. Every so often, baseball will send out a release trumpeting a new deal with XM radio, or a website or MasterCard.

Media outlets dismiss most of these announcements as propaganda, but Boras recognizes the news value. He will call down to his Dragon's Lair with orders to ferret out the fresh additions to baseball's central fund. As baseball's chest puffs like pastry, Boras prepares to slice into a larger pie.

And better believe when he pitches his clients to ownership groups, Boras' notebooks will include data on how big that baseball pie has become.

"Scott is extremely bright. Extremely prepared and thorough. Very determined," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said. "But some of the numbers he comes up with are a little miscalculated."

But Boras is armed with these indisputable facts: MLB's revenues have increased 28 percent from $3.2 billion in 2000 to $4.1 billion this year. Meanwhile the richest contract for a top free agent has plummeted 71.4 percent from A-Rod's $252 million in 2000 to Miguel Tejada's $72 million last winter.

"You say there's been a market correction," Boras said. "When you look at these numbers, the market correction says what?"

Know what infuriates owners about Boras? He's right. More than once, Selig's men learned Boras knew the collective bargaining agreement better than they did. It was Boras who turned the amateur draft upside down. In 1964, the year before baseball implemented the draft, Mantle and Mays were drawing $125,000 salaries while the Los Angeles Angels signed a kid named Rick Reichert to a $205,000 bonus.

Staggered, baseball welcomed its draft in 1965 by unilaterally capping signing bonuses. Rick Monday became baseball's first draft pick, and his reward was a 50 percent cut. Reichert's bonus remained a record for 18 years, when Darryl Strawberry received $210,000 in 1982. Boras, equipped with a law degree from the University of the Pacific, represented his first clients in 1983. He began to use another year of college or the Independent League as holdout leverage. He got Ben McDonald the first $1 million signing bonus in 1989. He stunned the industry by getting Brien Taylor a record $1.55 million bonus from the Yankees in 1991. Boras used a 15-day deadline to tender draft picks a contract - a formality clubs considered a waste of time - to turn Travis Lee and Matt Anderson into $10 million free agents.

As for established big-league players, Boras' impact on the free-agent market is undeniable. In a two-year span, he negotiated baseball's first $100 million contract for Kevin Brown and first $250 million deal for Rodriguez when no other player before or since reached $200 million.

So Boras doesn't play by the clannish rules while almost all his competition does. By being as relentless in gathering and analyzing knowledge as he is with his negotiation style, he has the ability to play a different strategy. He can play his alternate strategy in way that is successful in the short-term and without him having to advertise or go out and beat the bushes for new recruits. That strategy creates marketing pull attracting other players looking for the most aggressive agent they can find, providing him more chances to play his strategy.

It appears he does one more thing worth pointing out.

While most agents negotiation involve just one player at a time, Boras will bundle negotiations, forcing teams to consider multiple clients or even, I've read, put pressure on teams to put pressure on other teams to sign Boras clients.

If you're the agent for sellers that constitute a significant chunk of the market for quality, you can try to act as a cartel. And remember, he knows he doesn't need the whole market to buy into his plan, just one team for each player he represents. He's not selling commodities -- in this industry, like many others outside baseball, the talent is the product.

More endeavors are like baseball, clannish, fairly-closed systems, than economists like to admit.

There are advantages to the standard approach sellers take -- it simplifies the process, lowers the overhead inherent in negotiation. But the more the market is dominated by a standard approach, the higher the returns for a competitor to take a wildly different approach, especially if that competitor can offer quality as the differentiator. If quality is not the differentiator, the equation shifts to the buyer's favor -- because while they might not like dealing with the seller's aggresive agent, they need the cream of the talent to win the game. No quality, no need to go to the deviant strategy guy for mid-range talent they can buy with lower overhead and at a lower price.

Keep your eyes peeled for contrarian strategies. The more uniform the "standard" approach, the harder it is to find the exact right wedge, but the higher the returns when you do.

In the next entry, I'll discuss the other aspect of Boras' negotiation approach useful to managers outside of baseball.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Free-Falling For "Franchise" Falderal  

This is the add-on to an entry from a few days ago that discussed how acquiring actual mega-talent ("franchise players" or extraordinarily-gifted managers and executives) can make decisionmaking better through simplification. At the same time, that benefit creates buyer need that can be exploited through marketing in a way that leaves less heady buyers acquiring less-spectacular talent for the price of mega-talent.

Too frequently, a buyer goes into an acquisition or negotiation with specific aims, even well-defined ones, but ends up coming away with something different than they came to the table to get.

Sometimes the difference is for a good reason -- the resources didn't match up well, the environment changes, other events happen that require the planner to tweak the plans or even craft a complete makeover. Skilled managers tend to do well with their mid-course corrections, or don't allow themselves to commit to a course that might change to something fatal.

Here's an example. Late last season, the Dodgers traded their good-hitting-for-average catcher (Paul LoDuca) to the Marlins for a good innings-eating starter (Brad Penny), an ingredient they needed more in their stretch drive. It was Dodger GM Paul DePodesta's plan to turn around and trade Penny for a high-impact starter, perhaps Randy Johnson, but Penny was injured, Johnson made himself unavailable, and Penny gave the Bums very little. But for all the angst in Los Angeles about the intangibles LoDuca brought to the team that they were giving up, they played about as well without him. The intention (LoDuca for Johnson) didn't work out, but the failure to complete the compound deal didn't leave the Dodgers lost in space.

More frequently, the difference in an ability to find that happy medium that rests between rigid adherence and what I'll call monkey-mind.

Rigid adherence is Soviet-style commitment to an original plan made with assumptions that may even have been true in the exact moment the plan was forged.

Bill James in his book on Baseball Managers, takes to task Lee Fohl, a very successful dead-ball era manager who was still managing when the owners juiced the ball and many hitters started taking advantage of it in the early 1920s. According to James, Fohl stuck with his "small-ball" approach, limiting the effectiveness of his player acquisition strategy and the success of his teams on the field. At least one researcher who's an expert on that era, Steve Steinberg, believes James' characterization of Fohl is questionable.

It happens beyond baseball, too.

When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, they imagined a basically conventional war with their superior training and (relative-to-rebels') superior equipment and superior resources matching up well against disorganized loose units made up of nationalists and wacky fanatics. The puppet government they were supporting there was determined to advance the country's health and education infrastructure in exchange for adherence to this outside power's imperial vision. Their plan wasn't doomed to failure at the moment it was hatched. But once it started spinning out of control, the Soviet "planners" didn't move the objectives around, meet changed circumstances. They kept trying to fight the war they had started, not the war it had become, which was creating people willing to die for a country that barely existed in what most of the world would barely define as a country. The deluge of body bags making the return trip home and inability to successfully confront irregular forces with their "superior" equipment and training (and bureaucratic unwillingness to admit their mistakes) planted them firmly in a classic quagmire. And what those Soviets let loose still reverberates in global security implications today. Rigid adherence to plans in baseball or beyond it isn't guaranteed to fail, but if anything goes wrong, there's rarely a graceful fallback position.

In baseball, you'll sometimes see a G.M. go into an off-season trying to fix the apparent worst shortcoming the team suffered the season just finished. Perhaps it's starting pitching (like the Yankees focused on before 2004). They get so determined to fix that problem, they stop measuring the reward/risk ratio of individual decisions, and end up with starting pitching, certainly, but forgetting that each of those decisions had specific risks and that when assembled together, might not deliver the set of results the plan had been aimed to deliver.

Too many people gravitate to extremes, sometimes on failure intentionally throwing themselves to the extreme opposite stance. The opposite of the Soviet Rigid-Adherence model is Monkey-mind.

Monkey-mind, the constant fluid changing of objectives and even goals, is pervasive, too. You see this in some baseball teams' evolution over a number of seasons. The Devil Rays, for example, drafted aging speed when they started in 1998. After losing with a lack of power, they tried to corner the market on slugging veterans, and when this failed, they went to snot-nosed youth.

Beyond baseball you see this approach, usually unintentional. My friend the Italian Stallion and I used to go to the horse races in Seattle. We'd spend a day and a half crunching numbers out of the Daily Racing Form, I'd run reports on track bias, he'd comb through class and pace indicators, and we'd go to the track armed with thorough research and a set of picks to vet at the paddock (looking at the horses to make sure the horse in real life looked promising physically and wasn't having a bad mane day). To some degree, I would second guess myself when I looked at real horses -- most handicappers do. But he would send himself absolutely quaquaversal and almost invariably move to a different bet than he had planned on...while his original bet paid well.

Decision simplification (the very advantage a "franchise player" can provide) is one way to overcome the blizzard of competing thoughts the Monkey-mind victim is blown around with.

It's not surprising that Monkey-minded GMs are more easily sold a bill of Almost-Goods when the words "franchise player" bubble up in a talent acquisition effort. The temptation to simplify the mindstorm is too juicy to ignore.

Flexibility is important, in moderation. Working from either one of the extremes leads to closing on choices that weren't right.

Scott Boras doesn't get paid to care if a team buys the services of someone who doesn't fulfill the dreams of the buyer. Neither do most executive recruiters. Protect yourself in these situations; take a deep breath and "go rational", examining more than paper credentials, and going all the way into your own dreams, comparing them to the situation at hand and coming up.

Don't be a Brezhnev or an Italian Stallion.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

"Franchise" Players: Self-Delusion, Scott Boras &
Paying Premium for Passability  

It's Winter Meetings week for major league baseball, a time for free agent signings and trades and leaks to the baseball press (some of them even indicating true info) about teams' intentions. Intentions in baseball, as they are in all organizations, are not the same as what the team actually ends up doing. There's what a buyer has in mind, and then what they actually end up doing.

Buyers beyond baseball are subject to the same drift -- planning one thing but being deflected by their own lack of focus or by the manipulation of a clever salesman (or both).

In this entry, I'll point out a classic baseball case and how it manifests itself outside of baseball. In the next entry, I'll describe the forms that inability to focus on objectives tend to take. I'm going to deviate from my norm in this entry, btw, and use other sports, too, where the point is less subtle.


I think all sports fans know this term, though it has a fuzzy definition.. I define it as a player who is so effective her skill or his results just change the whole complexion of a franchise, someone you can build a whole team around (in soccer, Mia Hamm or Maradona, in basketball, Michael Jordan or Lauren Jackson).

Franchise players can be surrounded with very good players (think Willie Mays or Stan Musial or Mickey Mantle), or surrounded with mostly ordinary players (think Barry Bonds) or dogmeat (think Ken Griffey Jr when he was on the Mariners).

Execs in baseball and beyond love the idea of having a franchise player. Not all teams have one, but if you do, it makes every other decision easier.

  • Marketing: Put franchise player in ads.
  • Program cover: Pic of franchise player.
  • Promotional chatchkas: Bobble-heads, belt buckles, stained-glass windows, album of Fatboy Slim covers featuring franchise player.
  • Roster design: Build around the franchise player's aptitudes.
  • Facilities: If your franchise player is a power-hitting lefty like Babe Ruth, pull in or drop down the right-field fence.

Team building is a complex endeavor in and outside baseball. It's so complex, I'm going to simplify it by using a lesser, simpler endeavor, football, as an example. Back before he was a hand model, OJ Simpson was drafted by the then-deplorably-weak-everywhere Buffalo Bills. Simpson was a remarkable running back, needing only about 6 inches of hole for about .2 of a second to create a broken-field run, and once past the line, he was exceptionally hard to stop. The Bills had about nothing, they got this #1 draft pick, they had a franchise player. It became obvious that one would build the team around this exceptional talent and his aptitudes, obvious where to go next: build an offensive line that could consistently create 6-inch holes for .2 of a second, get a quarterback who could hand off reliably, get a complementary running back who could block effectively.

It didn't mean ignoring everything else, but there was a cascading set of personnel & strategy & tactical decisions that became obvious once you had a franchise player. This takes a lot of burden off the decisionmaker that would weigh on a peer running an organization without a franchise player.

So there's a managerial simplification advantage in having one. The problem is there aren't very many franchise players; demand is higher than supply. It's not like Toyota Priuses or armored humvees -- there's no factory just waiting to build more franchise players once buyers snap up what's out there. Because -- and here's the dirty little secret -- if there were enough for there to be one for every team, they wouldn't be franchise players. The whole concept is self-limiting. The franchise player has to be the "best" player on any team she could play for, so how many of those can you have?

In that sense, the concept "franhcise player" is as much a marketing concept as it is an operational factor.


In baseball, teams will pay more for what they believe to be a franchise player than the player's apparent surface value because they are getting this tangible simplification benefit. Players who are very good but not considered franchise players won't get that extra kick over surface value.

In non-baseball organizations, this is equally true of C-level executives, such as CFOs and CEOs. So agents (executive recruiters) benefit if they can convince teams that perfectly fine players are actually franchise players, team-changing experiences.

One of the masters of the technique of exploiting teams' wishful thinking is Scott Boras, perhaps the best known agent. He's not the best known, btw, because he's the best. While he's very effective, there are a half dozen equals. It's just that Boras is a very effective self-promoter and he's also tapped into a particular strain of American business style: leave nothing on the table ever, and achieve your ends by any means necessary.

His latest son et lumiere is around his client Adrian Beltre. According to Jack Curry's piece in the International Herald Tribune:

Scott Boras swiveled his chair to the left, then the right, then abandoned his seat because he needed to emphasize a point. So he jumped up, grabbed a red marker off a conference table and drew on a white board.

The subject was how to determine the value of baseball players, and, of course, Boras was an expert. He scribbled a few words and numbers to illustrate why he thought he could prove that Adrian Beltre was a franchise player (my underline) who could become one of the best third basemen in history.{snip} Boras explained that he had thought Beltre was a superstar before he hit 48 homers for the Dodgers last season. Many baseball officials would disagree.

Once Boras finished putting evidence on the board, he sat down again and opened a blue binder. Beltre's name and autograph were in silver on the front of the 36-page binder, and "Scott Boras Corp." was printed in the lower left-hand corner. Boras said it took years to compile a binder like that. The binders are Boras's way of telling teams how valuable his clients are. Turn the page, Boras will say with a confident expression, and become a believer. For Boras to be successful, only one team needs to believe.

"Our job is to understand what landmarks we can find in the game, going through an entire history, and use our data to portray a player and let teams know, 'Excuse me, you have a flashing light before you,"' he said. Welcome to the intensely prepared, always patient and usually rigid world of Boras, the agent who tells players what they are worth, tells teams the same and waits for the outcome to satisfy him.

Truly, Beltre is very good young player. Let me mention the good things about his vitæ.

  • In this last season, he led the National League in homers, and tallied 120 RBIs.
  • He was sturdy: he played in 156 games & had 200 hits.
  • He's maturing: This season he cut his strikeouts by one-sixth while boosting his walks by a third.
  • His defense is net positive: At third base, his zone factor leads the majors, & his range factor is well-above average.
  • He's 25 years old, not yet at his peak, but he's played for 6½ seasons already.

Very cool. Now here's the part Boras isn't including in the glossy marketing brochure: Beltre's career, separated from that one super-ultra-premium year, is fairly-good-not-very-good.


 1998 77 195 18 42 9 0 7 22 14 37 3 1 .215 .278 .369 .648
 1999 152 538 84 148 27 5 15 67 61 105 18 7 .275 .352 .428 .780
 2000 138 510 71 148 30 2 20 85 56 80 12 5 .290 .360 .475 .835
 2001 126 475 59 126 22 4 13 60 28 82 13 4 .265 .310 .411 .720
 2002 159 587 70 151 26 5 21 75 37 96 7 5 .257 .303 .426 .729
 2003 158 559 50 134 30 2 23 80 37 103 2 2 .240 .290 .424 .714
 2004 156 598 104 200 32 0 48 121 53 87 7 2 .334 .388 .629 1.017
 Career 966 3462 456 949 176 18 147 510 286 590 62 26 .274 .332 .463 .794

From BigLeaguers.Yahoo.Com

I put in bold his best years for the stats presented in this table. As you can see, 2004 stands alone. It's npot that he's a bad player -- just an average one with a great season. Lots of players have great seasons after a few years of average play. A few go on to repeat their performance, more never repeat.

Adrian Beltre is a very attractive free agent. A guy who would help almost any team -- if his bat reverts, you still have his glove, and while not worth the same, it's something.

Adrian Beltre is not a franchise player, a contributor you want to build a team around -- that fragile algebra of interconnecting parts you cobble together to leach the most of your franchise player collapses quaquaversally like a pile of pick up sticks during an artillery barrage.

Boras only needs to find one wishful thinker who, even though she or she knows it's hype, holds out the hope, or needs the media impact for the season-ticket holders.


You see this marketing all the time outside of baseball, only it's fiercer. An organization looking for improvement goes out into the marketplace looking for executive talent. Maybe the suit just looks great. More often, the suit has been a team member in a big effort that succeeded. The prospective CxO or her recruiter has a great binder that spins the legacy of success in a way that makes it look like the Franchise Candidate was "responsible" for the success.

¿Why is it fiercer?

Because there are no reliable stats in most cases, as there are in baseball. These hiring managers are flying almost blind, armed with pretty much nothing beyond glossy marketing materials.

There are things you can do, of course. I have a three-point plan I advocate for my clients. I might outline it for you, if readers want it.

But I can't begin to tell you how many Archie McCardells (failure at Ford, moved to Xerox; failure at Xerox, moved to International Harvester; failure at Harvester) there are -- even proven failures are marketable, so the merely passable or very good become very easy to market as The Salvation of Western Civilization.

In the next post, I'll discuss some of the factors that contribute to buyers getting into this situation.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Reprise Entry: Why Contemporary Accounting
Practices = the Steroid Fuss  

While no serious baseball fans I know personally are very excited about the steroids in baseball fuss (winter meetings are on), my mail is significantly juiced with people mainlining the news drip, so I thought I'd feed the interested with another entry, one I wrote during spring training. It relates some baseball lessons people outside baseball can get some value out of.

Asterisks Next To Marvin Benard's
Stat Line - When Juice is Addictive  

"Generally accepted accounting practices", the life's blood of business organizations, are exactly like legal nutritional supplements; they can be really effective for early adopters, and if competitors don't jump on the bandwagon to juice their books, they are at a competitive disadvantage, but the long-term effect is to degrade everyone that uses them. Finance dudes who create their own, or deploy them before the Financial Standards Accounting Board has designated them generally accepted are the exact equivalent of athletes using steroids or other illegal substances to try to enhance their numbers..

Finance types at most publically-held firms are always pushing the envelope in creative accounting because the need to perform at a high level (see Enron, Global Crossing, Syntex, Microsoft) to please institutional investors is overwhelming, and the pressure is constant. One a competitor has jumped into the application of a way to improve their apparent results (this is different from baseball, of course, because in baseball, the results are real, not imaginary), it behooves every other accountant in every other competitor to do the same. Offshore tax shelters, accelerated depreciation, lease buyback, LLCs, the renting of prison labor in Communist China while labeling the products Made In U.S.A., all these things are performance enhancers that degrade whole systems around them. The Major Barbara argument: If I don't do it, someone else will. And if others do it and you don't, you're at a competitive disadvantage.

Assuming these supplements improve actual performance (either because of the placebo effect or because of some actual improved physical skill), this is a classic Tragedy of the Commons problem. What benefits any individual may be bad for the system as a whole, which means, in the long run, it's bad for the individual who is part of that system. (If you don't know this concept, I strongly urge you to read the linked article; this, more than any other single article you'll ever read explains why most organizations are dysfunctional -- where it talks about farmers and cattle, insert managers and initiatives).

I'm, personally, not concerned about the use of supplements in baseball from a statistical point of view. I don't think it tainted any of Marvin Benard's or Barry Bonds' stat lines. You still have to hit the ball, make contact of quality x with the proper form and follow through. You can't inject or swallow or rub into your scalp or snort coordination or instincts.

Marvin Benard on steroids, legal or otherwise, is still a marginal 5th outfielder.

Records are records. Rules change, practices change. As my buddy John Pastier has said, any batting record posted after the last legal spitballer retired was earned with an advantage predecessors didn't have. Strike-free foul balls, racial segregation (Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson don't have in their stat lines data accumulated against any African-American, German, Dutch or Aussie ballplayers), systems change.

The truly sad thing is it appears that players who prefer not to use supplements feel the need to use them to stay competitive, the way every finance functionary who wants her publically-held company to succeed has to use these bookkeeping tricks and other Commons-ist practices. And just as it appears there are quite extreme mid-term and long-term health affects for ballplayers who use (some data indicates it can cut life expectancy 15 years), we know the finance& management tricks are destructive of the economy as a whole, whether it's exporting jobs to Communist prison camps where people work without pay, or being able to deduct a charitable donation of software that lists for $1,000 and wholesales for $500 and costs $75 per marginal unit for $500 on your corporate taxes, or setting up subsidiaries in the Grand Caymans and shuffling money around to avoid paying their fair share.

There's only one solution in a Commons.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Sammy Sosa & The Collective Unconscious:
Executive Fads as Transitive Trepidation  

As I've written about before, upper-management initiatives are too frequently driven neither by need nor by Archimedean "Aha!" innovation, but by a lemming-like adherence to fad. The vast majority of executives, incapable of creating appropriate innovations hear a speech at the Junior Presidents' Club or a Rotary lunch or a trade show or read a short article in an airline magazine, and quicker than Jason Giambi can run from the batter's box to first base (about six seconds the one time I measured it) strategic plans are being thrown out, consultants hired & blisteringly big bucks blasted broadside to copy the idea.

Fads are not necessarily bad ideas. But there's always a chance that the fad is not based on some actual need but a neurotic trigger.

These triggers can be personal. I consulted once to a fairly big firm on an aggressive initiative that required the involvement of five departments. Four were re-tuning their operations with some additional staff and redesigned processes to squeeze out some extra time for adoption, while a fifth, mysteriously, was downsizing and purging functions. It turned out the department manager had had a parent die and in his personal life was clearing out an old house full of "stuff" and it affected his entire emotional outlook which he then allowed to seep into his work. He was doing the same thing at work (unnecessarily) as he was doing at home, a lack of self-awareness (third base in the MBB Model).

These triggers can be society-wide. In times of overarching systemic stress, such as the U.S. is now experiencing, the fads that catch on are likely to be based on fear instead of pushing forward. An extraordinary amount of attention is being spent within our society on non-productive (technical term there, not perjorative) activities, like security and tracking systems, as opposed to building new production capacity or R&D or other investments designed to expand opportunities. This is true for business and government especially. Like the departmental manager who was grieving for his lost parent, the backdrop of the entire business and government cultures' mindset is in a defensive stance affected more by a generalized trepidation than by a healthy pursuit of opportunity

Baseball is a swell canary in the mine for this generalized trepidation.

And Peter Gammons is a wonderful turkey thermometer for baseball executive conventional wisdom. When you read his column, either in the paper or on-line, you are getting the best-connected conventional wisdom transceiver in the business.

So what's the collective unconscious feeling? Well before we get to Sosa, I want you to have some background on the collective unconscious around steroids. Here's Gammons' opener from Dec 4th:

It is a shame that Jose Canseco's book isn't yet off the presses, or that Ken Caminiti died. Their voices should be heard this week, voices from the ashes of the time when owners and chicks who dug the long ball stimulated the steroids era.

The week that baseball's dirty little secret became a scandal, the game that is a billion dollar business turned into a cesspool of needles, creams, performance-enhancing corporations, illegal (not to mention immoral) leaks and lawyers' fees. Since Mark Fainaru-Wada and the people at the San Francisco Chronicle so brilliantly detailed what our government promised was confidential information, the baseball business has taken a hit. How serious a hit we will not know until we see where the roads that lead out of BALCO take us, or if government officials leak the private, confidential information from the 2003 drug testing they seized, which will detail the identities of the more than 50 players who tested positive.

What we do now believe is that when Barry Bonds passes Babe Ruth sometime this spring, it will be greeted not by cheers, but jeers, or worse, disinterest. When Bonds passes Henry Aaron in early 2006, we will be reminded that what once was the most regal of all sports records will have been relegated to the level of the all-time NHL goals leader.

Talk about overarching hand-wringing (and overwriting). Baseball fans as a vast pool are somewhat affected by distrust of the game in the wake of the steroid-hunting fad. But most either don't care much or understand that steroids are not intrinsically performance-enhancing.

They didn't enhance Ken Caminiti's career, they ended it. They didn't enhance Marvin Benard's career. Benard, "The Nicaraguan Nothing", bought the same treatments from the same seller that Barry Bonds did. Before he took those treatments, he performed like a marginal 5th outfielder. After he took them, it transformed his performance not a whit -- he was still a marginal 5th outfielder.

As a nation, we've been in a multi-year period of accelerating hand-wringing and anxiety-driven initiatives. Fads like concern about steroids aren't generally about baseball itself, they're about a society-wide feeling that behavior needs to be regulated and enforced rigorously in an attempt to bring back a sense of lost X.

Congress is on fire about steroids in baseball, much more so than they are about something they can do something about, iatrogenic deaths (avoidable fatalities inadvertently caused during medical treatments, estimated as being the 3rd highest cause of death in this country, roughly 63,000/month by one study's estimate). And because Congress is on fire about it, and because Congress can overturn Major League Baseball's antitrust exemption, the executives suddenly care a lot. Because the execs care a lot, the reporters are tranceiving a lot of this angst.

NOTE: I'm personally opposed to athletes taking steroids for non-medical purposes (there are a lot of medical purposes for steroids, such as asthma & tissue reinforcement), & I'd prefer baseball players didn't take them. I suspect it may be proven that there are some long-term ill health effects in many users from chronic use, and, as with any substance, there are going to be a few individuals who have catastrophic results even from small exposure, as with ibuprofen or prozac or sulfites. It's not as important to outcomes in baseball as a dozen other factors that need to be dealt with.

Gammons wrote in his most recent column:

The fallout from the BALCO leaks stuffed the rest of baseball underground for four days. So baseball reaches the Dec. 7 date for free agents to be offered arbitration and the Dec. 9 assembling of the winter meetings far behind where it normally finds itself in terms of signings and trades. {snip}

The Cubs want to deal Sosa to the Mets --for Cliff Floyd and a prospect, with Chicago making the money work -- but the Mets haven't indicated whether they're still in it. There had been reports in New York that the Barry Bonds "scandal" affected New York's thinking, but the Cubs' front office thinks that is absurd, since Sosa has never been linked to any steroid scandal and last year hit 34 home runs despite missing close to 30 games because of a back injury.

Remarkable. Barry Bonds added weight as he aged (normal), and started hitting more home runs (normal) as other aspects of his game such as baserunning speed and range in the outfield started declining (normal). And he apparently took supplements which may get categorized as steroids. Sammy Sosa got heavier as he aged, hit more home runs and his baserunning speed and outfield range declined as he aged. So, the magical thinking goes, Sammy Sosa is about to be involved in a steroid use Brewer-ha-ha?

Weak thinking based on the transitive property of trepidation.

If the Giants play good baseball next year with Bonds on the team, they are going to sell as many tickets as they did in the past. Sosa is more popular as an individual than Bonds (who tends to be sullen and uncooperative with the press and sometimes also with teammates, and therefore gets less good publicity). If you weighted "voting" based on tickets bought per year, people willing to buy tickets to see players who were implicated in a supplements (steroids, andro, vitamins, etc. etc.) issue, the votes willing to not modify their attendance behavior would win in a landslide. And Sosa attracts more affection than Bonds.

There is, however, an incredibly convincing reason not to trade for Sammy Sosa, something the Mets appear to have missed, oir at least haven't mentioned to Gammons. Sammy Sosa is coming off 3rd consecutive seasonal decline for both quantity and quality:

Year Age Games OPS+
2001 32 160 201
2002 33 150 160
2003 34 137 135
2004 35 126 110

OPS+ is a single-number measure of offensive quality, 100 being league-average

He's not prune whip -- he still hit 35 homers last season. But he carries about a $16 million/year salary, and that consistent (if only four-season) decline should be an ominous warning to be careful.

I'm not suggesting Sosa is doomed to further immediate decline -- he might have had a nagging health problem that finally reached a crescendo last year. But if I was running the Mets in the current salary environment, I'd be very hesitant to take on Sosa's salary given the recnt history of his performance on the field, even with his value off the field.

Trepidation doesn't win pennants. The Collective Unconscious can't score runs. But both can get in the way of a clear-headed decision, in baseball and beyond.

Monday, December 06, 2004

PART II: Stealing 3rd - Ichiro Suzuki's Mastery
of Tools & Self-Awareness  

As I wrote in the previous entry, 3rd base in the MBB management model is self-awareness, knowing how your own personality traits and biases and habits invisibly tug you towards certain responses to situations, and how to control those impulses so you can get better results & make better decisions.

Most of those common impulses are based on individual personality. But one of them, not seen often, is one of the hardest to break.

That impulse is resistance to going back to an old, useful tool once we've been successful at moving forward to better ones. It's tough enough to change away from things that made us successful (one of the main topics of the previous entry). A minority of individuals are capable of creating and recognizing success. And only a minority of those individuals are capable of adapting from a successful model to another without having to experience failure as an incentive to change. Ichiro Suzuki's is one of the minority of that minority of that minority case, who has mastered and attended to his tools well enough that he has been able to move back to a rejected set of tools in order to perform in a changed environment.

Ichiro is one of the planet's great masters of self-awareness, and this was hammered home for me when I read his recently released book, Ichiro on Ichiro: Conversations with Narumi Komatsu (Sasquatch Books, Seattle, 2004). As I said, it has some great insights of use to managers in their everyday work, because Suzuki is totally rigorous in his mental approach to the game.

You can look at his record in the Japanese League and see he achieved remarkable success there from his "rookie" season there (1994, the first year he had enough appearances to be considered a regular).

Year Team G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI Avg
1992 Orix 40 95 9 24 5 0 0 5 .253
1993 Orix 43 64 4 12 2 0 1 3 .188
1994 Orix 130 546 111 210 41 5 13 54 .385*
1995 Orix 130 524 104 179 23 4 25 80 .342*
1996 Orix 130 542 104 193 24 4 16 84 .356*
1997 Orix 135 536 94 185 31 4 17 91 .345*
1998 Orix 135 506 79 181 36 3 13 71 .358*
1999 Orix 103 411 80 141 27 2 21 68 .343*
2000 Orix 105 395 73 153 22 1 12 73 .387*
Total 951 3619 658 1278 211 23 118 529 .353

* = Batting average champion

Seven seasons, seven batting championships. It wasn't exactly foreshadowed by his cup of coffee in '92 or his refill in '93.

To succeed, he had to create a change (Home Plate in the MBB Model). In this case, the change was in the way he delivered his swing. Japanese pitchers' standard delivery has extra motion in the wind-up, a hesitation that allows them to hide the ball a little more, create more visual artifacts for the batter to have to deal with. (if you've seen Hideo Nomo's tornado-style wind-up, or Shingo Takatsu's near-glacial motion in action you've seen flavors of it).

To succeed in Japan, to move from his performance in those 92-93 seasons to what he accomplished in '94 and on he says in his book, he had to incorporate a lift in his lead leg. He was still starting his motion at the same time, but the leg lift kept his balance back.

He adapted successfully in that case by adding an element to his swing, something that's very difficult to do both in baseball and beyond. Managers in non-baseball organizations have a heck of a time succeeding if they have to change long-held behavior patterns that had made them successful -- most won't do it in a meaningful way, and the ones who do tend to lose their way...following the new set of behaviors in a rigid way without really internalizing the subtleties of them or being able to make skillful mid-course corrections or variations in response to mutating situations.

Adaptation successful. But when Suzuki came to spring training for the major league baseball in the U.S., he could see from up close that North American league pitchers don't generally have the hesitation, the extra motion. From weight-fully-back to release, the MLB pitcher simplified the motion, cuts the time relative to Japanese pitchers. Ethnological differences between populations mostly isolated from each other.

The leg lift invented and mastered to the tune of seven batting titles was now in the way. For Suzuki, the physical process has a strong intellectual component -- he understands his body/tool mechanics as thoroughly as if he had written a Chilton's on himself as an outside observer. (Curt Schilling is the only other ballplayer I know of that both seems to understand this and verbalize it for the public -- if you know any others, I'd be grateful to hear from you about one).

As the dialog in the book describes (interviewer question in italic):

I have noticed a definite change in your batting form from before you joined the majors - the way you don't life your right foot anymore {snip}.

Right. All the basics are the same though, It isn't like I've changed from tracking the ball as a line to seeing it as a point or anything. I still bring the bat so it strikes the track of the ball...just the timing has changed.

Does it feel like you're moving faster?

It's not faster, it's omitting a part. I time things without that pause a pitcher might add. Compared to Japanese pitchers, there's less excess movement in major league pitchers' from so I've got to cut out excess myself so I can stay in tune with them.

{snip} But doesn't that mean you can't get set yourself? In theory, batters, too, need that pause to gather their strength? {snip}

Omitting that pause and getting set up are two different things. Before, I used to get all set without doing that. {snip}The movement of my right foot, and the lower half of my body have become more compact. But this process of getting set isn't done by raising the right leg, but why what the batter does with his left leg, the inner part of the left leg. It takes place in your adductor muscles, and the inner part of the knee. Getting set isn't necessarily linked to raising your right foot. {snip}

I find it fascinating, though that when you had just become a pro (back in Japan) you found you couldn't hit consistently with the kind of batting you'd been doing up till then, which led to this form where you raise your right foot, and then your batting average went up. But now what's save you in the majors is the batting form you'd discarded in Japan.

I thought I'd never need to use that older batting form again. Lifting my right foot like that let me hit the way I wanted so I thought there wasn't any need. But in the majors I discovered I needed to resurrect that old technique. Discovering this and finding a solution to my problem was definitely a turning point for me as I was starting out in the majors.

A side note: I was terribly disappointed when I started writing about baseball and talking to players and coaches, because I had always imagined the thinking process was in this integrated body-mind zone, that is, problem-solving the way I did it at work, with examination, testing, synthesis, re-examination. It turned out, with too few exceptions, that what they were willing to verbalize was a very limited range of things, excluding this kind of palaver, usually just shorthand retellings of "see the ball, hit the ball".

While, in general, managers who have the capability of adopting and using new tools throw away the old ones they've replaced new one with, to be truly effective, we need to keep the self-awareness of what worked for us before and why, and keep those replaced tools at hand for later resurrection. We have the capability of carrying tools we've used in the past with us. Experience, to frequently a barrier to change, can be additive, as opposed to assuming you're just replacing the "good" with the "better".

Paul Heath, perhaps the very smartest marketer on the planet, has always been able to add to his tools collection without throwing anything away. Like a handyman, he won't try to use every tool in his toolbox on every job, but he sets them aside. He's moved from industry to industry, always with rate-busting success (he started out with Japanese electronics giants, moved to an Australian modem manufacturer and made them the biggest in the hemisphere, and then on to a cell phone service provider. Now he works for a monthly magazine). He sometimes invents new things, he frequently sets aside techniques that he recognizes won't work in the in the new industry, but he doesn't throw them away, shut his mind to them. He just sets them aside and both periodically for no reason at all, or in response to a specific need for a solution, shuffles through them mentally to see if there's one that'd be useful in the some current or future plans.

There's a certain anti-Zen to this process. It's not "see the ball, hit the ball", which is what I had thought Suzuki did before I read the new book. It's very deliberate, like Paul Heath's process, a commitment to archiving techniques and re-examining the currently-used ones constantly for synthesis and places one might improve them.

Do you do that yourself? Are you able to resurrect discarded tools when confronted with successful adaptations that might not work as well anymore? It's hard to score runs if you can't even get to third base.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

free website counter