Saturday, December 31, 2005

Full of Wrap -- Solstice-to-Solstice "Best of"  

One of the great cultural compulsions of the English-speaking world is to do year-in-review and best-of wrap articles. As a former journalism professional, I know enough about how they come to be to ridicule them as a class. I've written about it at CIO Central, but summarize the argument, it's usually either an excuse to squeeze out an easy piece of content during a time of year people either are getting time off or feeling like they deserve to, or alternatively it's an autonomic reaction, as in "Gosh, everyone else does them...shouldn't we do an end of the year wrap"?

I've been engaged in a conversation with some of my readers and I'm usually surprised at their "favorite" entries --m they tend not to be the ones I like best myself. Anyway, a couple pushed back on my push back when I asked "why" they happened to favor some specific pieces, something I do to try to learn more about the readers in the hope of doing a better job fulfilling their interests. The push back was: "Well then, which are your favorites".

That alone didn't galvanize me into clichéd action. I got cover from one of the most useful bloggers, the Creative Generalist, who had the courage to produce such a piece and still be useful.

So for the benefit of those few who wonder which of my entries I'm most pleased with, here's an American League starting line-up's worth of my favorite entries between shortest days of the year, winter solstice 2004 through winter solstice 2005.

1. CATCHER: A two part entry, interviews with LA Angel manager Mike Scioscia. He reveals a lot about himself, and the statistical and analytical underpinnings of the low-OBA division winners' Moneyball strategy. What I liked best about this essay was there was some insight into how an organization uses numbers to shape behavior and at the same time there was a lot of revelation about the manager and his personality and background. Part I and Part II.

2. PITCHER: Rick Peterson's Management by Baseball Lesson #1 - Coaching IS Learning. An essay that resulted from my conversation with New York Mets' pitching coach Rick Peterson, the single most interesting individual I've ever met in baseball, one of the most relentlessly analytical and right-brained people I've met in any field. This small slice of his thinking is a way of managing that is universally and easily applicable to managers who supervise people in their jobs.

3. FIRST BASE: The Texas Rangers' Film Noir Special Effect: Don Malcolm's Performance Evaluation Tool was classic First Base in the MBB Model. It covered sabermetric bad-boy Don Malcolm's analysis of the Texas Rangers' performance with a prediction for their 2005 season. There is a duality in sabermetric analysis; at one extreme, there are pure math researchers who get pleasure and believe they find truth in formulae and their results, and at the other extreme there are pattern-recognizers whose arguments, while equally mathematical, may not even require numbers (think Euclid's The Elements). I enjoy both, but I find the irregularly posted thoughts Malcolm lays out among the most valuable pattern-recognition leaning ideas.

4. SECOND BASE: The Dodgers, Paul DePodesta & Monsters From the Id. This January 2004 essay pointed out an early assault by some key members of the L.A. sports press on the regime of Dodger G.M. Paul DePodesta, what they were doing and their reasons for conducting the war. The attack, sustained continually, was ultimately successful in getting him fired. The owners' reported reason for letting the G.M. go was his lack of people skills, Second Base in the MBB Model.

5. THIRD BASE. Minnesota Twins' Cosmic Enlightenment: Success Through Knowing the Contributor Is Not the Job Description. One of the greatest organizational weaknesses (business, military, government, especially) is falling into the unexamined belief that the job description is the employee and that the employee is the job description. This is a well-documented case of baseball management's clear superiority over the management in those other sectors, and it's an easy, actionable insight to apply to your own benefit.

6. SHORTSTOP. Management Disinformation: Dusty Baker, The Cubs, Shock & Awe, Derrek Lee. An essay on the application of disinformation and the way one of baseball's masters of the practice, Dusty Baker, executes it. Baker is one of those super-smart types whose conduct and statements make casual observers imagine he's a semi-ignorant yahoo which, of course, is exactly what his tactics require for them to succeed.

7. LEFT FIELD. Bob Wickman's Wisdom or Wacky Weltanschauung?: The Intentional Balk as Cognitive Terror. One of the biggest challenges is finding a context to try out an innovation. Sometimes the benefit/cost ratio is higher than it looks.There's a school of knowledge management that believes in "innovation science"; while scientific method is a critical component for most successful innovation, innovation as a successful practice relies on more than just science, something Bob Wickman wisely knows.

8. CENTER FIELD. A two-part essay on Negotiation, Scott Boras Style. Negotiation is the most most universally-required skill in which a majority of managers are over their heads. Boras is not a negotiator many can use as a model but understanding his techniques and when and why they work is essential for those who might face a Boras-style negotiator.This piece also explains tangentially why player salaries have apparently gone up so much this off-season. PartI. Part II.

9. RIGHT FIELD. A two-part essay on Lenny Harris' Deboning of the Marlins. Batting coach Lenny Harris misinterpreted data, rolled in some conventional wisdom and re-made Marlin lead-off hitter Juan Pierre's approach at the plate. I predicted challenges for him, and he performed worse than I thought, dragging down the Marlins' season into the Marianas Trench. A cautionary note about using data unrigorously and ignoring context. This one has a lot of value to managers outside baseball. Part I. Part II.

10. DESIGNATED HITTER. Beane Salad Surgery: If You Respond to Current Events, You've Waited Too Long. An essay explaining in the most simple language possible why change is so hard to initiate and manage. Baseball in general, Billy Beane specifically, makes this lesson and how and why to execute change clearer than anything else I've seen. Plus, it points to an atricle by Steven Goldman, a serious favorite of mine.

"That's a wrap".

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