Saturday, February 26, 2005

Part I:
Pulling A Lenny: Evolution, Prevolution
and Lenny Harris' Deboning of the Marlins  

Invention is the mother of necessity -- Thorsten Veblen

Soon after my daughter started 5th grade she learned to listen to her peers and give them credence equal to that she gave her mother. It's a normal choice for someone that age. And it's equally normal that some of that advice will be given by sheer incompetents or will be totally dysfunctional ideas from a perfectly reasonable kid.

The case in point was an innovation sparked by a kid named Lennie. Since much of the mojo around pecking order was based on athletic shoes, Lennie decided there needed to be a post-purchase innovation to the shoes that he could claim as his own. I'm confident he didn't think about it too long, because the innovation he sparked, and that soon spread to any kid who wanted to be cool, was an evolutionary dead-end based on a total lack of investigation.

Lennie decided that from now on, athletic shoes should be laced in reverse...starting at the ankle and working down towards the toe with the bow laced in the front. This was a demented idea worthy of the post-victory moves of Esposito, the Latin American rebel leader, upon liberating San Marcos in the movie Bananas ("From this day on, the official language of San Marcos will be Swedish. In addition to that, all citizens will be required to change their underwear every half-hour. Underwear will be worn on the outside so we can check. Furthermore, all children under 16 years old are now... 16 years old!"). Only three things were wrong with the idea: (1) kids kept tripping by stepping on their front-bows, (2) it took about ten times a long to get the shoes on or off, and (3) there was not one thing better or more functional about it -- there was nothing right about it. It lasted less than a week, but it was ugly while it happened.

This type of seat-of-the-pants innovation with no testing happens too frequently at the hands of executives and managers and peers in all kinds of organizations. Ever since the week my daughter tried to endure that innovation, I have called these brain-spasms of the nanosecond that get implemented without even a couple of minutes of investigation or doing the simple research "pulling a Lennie".

After 20 years, I may have to change that spelling. Because this week, according to this story in the Sun-Sentinel, Florida Marlin utility player Lenny Harris is counseling team leadoff hitter Juan Pierre to walk more, specifically by being more consistent with his approach on pitches when he has three balls in the count. By doing this, Lenny suggested, Pierre could be more like Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs and have a better chance to win a batting title.

Working out together for most of the offseason, veteran Lenny Harris drilled one thought into leadoff hitter Juan Pierre's head -- think batting title.

Harris wants Pierre to aim high and "shoot for the stars." After Pierre led the Marlins with a .326 batting average last season and finished second in the majors with a club-record 221 hits, Harris believes Pierre has all the makings of a batting champion.

"We talked about it a lot this offseason," Harris said. "When I first mentioned it to him, I don't think his expectations were that high yet, but that's what he has to reach for. He's got the ability to do it as long as he's more consistent on ball fours. If he's going to be the type of hitter like [Wade] Boggs and [Tony] Gwynn, he's got to walk more."

A year ago, Pierre led the Marlins with a .374 on-base percentage but only walked 45 times. Because he's one of the fastest runners in baseball, Pierre hasn't been as patient at the plate because he feels he can beat out bunts and infield dribblers. "I'd have to get 250 hits or walk more [to be a batting champ]," Pierre said. "I have to do one or the other. Sixty walks would help out."

On the surface, it seems like it might be worth a try. Contemporary baseball researchers and sabermetrics aficionados are enamored with the walk because it's been underrated for so long. In essence, since runs are the ultimate measure of success in a game, and since a necessary precursor of scoring is being a baserunner, it makes sense to harvest every opportunity you can to become a baserunner, and walks, as unromantic as they seem, are something you don't even have to create...you can can "take" them from opposing pitchers. And this will definitely raise your on-base percentage (because letting ball four go by and taking first with a walk is a higher on-base move than swinging, even at a meatball hanging curve, and putting it into play with a perfect smack because there's not a 100% chance the defense won't put you out or that the ball would be foul. And it has a good chance of raising your batting average because if you are letting a higher percentage of out of the strike zone pitches go by, you're going to have better success with the ones you do swing at and should make fewer easy outs.

But while this is overwhelmingly true in the general case, the average, that a player who is more patient and works pitchers for incremental walks is going to have a better on-base percentage and likely end up with a better batting average, it's not true for every single player.

It's not true, even remotely, for Juan Pierre.

There can be useful torque in taking tips from teammates. Sometimes they see things differently from managers. Sometimes, they're willing to look at data management won't. Not in this case.

Harris clearly pulled this Lennie without ever looking at Pierre's historical record. Not only has he been consistent on balls four, more important, he's been blisteringly effective. Here, courtesy of MLBPA and Yahoo, is Pierre's career historical performance and at or after selected counts. I abridged this table so we can focus on the Lennie Lenny pulled.

 Juan Pierre Career Situational Stats
 Total   2755 859 98 35 7 185 166 .312 .361 .380 .742  
 Count 0-0   343 114 9 2 2 1 0 .332 .342 .388 .730  
 Count 3-0   0 0 0 0 0 46 0 .000 1.000 .000 .000  
 After (3-0)   45 22 1 0 1 80 3 .489 .811 .578 1.389  
 Count 3-1   27 10 0 0 1 87 0 .370 .852 .481 1.334  
 After (3-1)   109 47 6 0 1 111 5 .431 .717 .514 1.231  
 Count 3-2   155 62 10 1 0 51 11 .400 .548 .477 1.025  
 After (3-2)   155 62 10 1 0 51 11 .400 .548 .477 1.025  

For his career, Pierre has been a leadoff hitter, so his job in the normal baseball view and the sabermetric view is to get on base. Up until 2004, Pierre has gotten on base at a .355 clip, though last year he improved it to .375, about 13% better than the league. His career OPS is a middling .740, about median for starting players, neither good nor bad. He walks rarely (more than he strikes out, which is a strong, not definite, indicator of decent plate judgment) so his on-base reflects mostly his ability to hit the ball and be safe at first.

Clearly, he has room for improvement and a swell foundation from which to build. But being more consistent on balls four isn't a place for growth.

You can only have a potential ball four thrown at you on the following counts: 3-0, 3-1, and 3-2.

On 3-0, he's obeyed the accepted wisdom of the ages and not put the ball in play even once. He's walked 46 of the 171 times he's been thrown a 3-0 pitch. He's created no outs at 3-0. No harm. Just fine, thank you.

In the roughly 125 times he didn't walk on a 3-0 pitch (that is, the pitcher threw a strike and he had to go on in the at bat to 3-1 and possibly further) he had a batting average of .490 and an on-base percentage of .810. He had a Bonds-ian OPS of 1.390. Once Pierre worked the count to 3-0 (that is, a count where his handling of potential balls four) he is Godzilla, Rodan and the resurrection of Sliding Billy Hamilton combined.

Does he need to change the way he deals with potential 4th balls? No way.

Here's another indicator: What he does on 3-2 pitches. The 3-2 count is not automatically in the batter's favor...the batter pretty much has to swing at anyhting that might be a strike, but the batter will more often get a strike, as well. On composite average, it's pretty close to a wash, but with a high variance depending on the kind of batter at the plate.

Pierre's OPS on 3-2 pitches that finish his plate appearances is a super-charged (for him anyway) 1.025, 39% better than his average. The last thing in Pierre's game he needs to worry about is handling plate appearances where he might see a 4th ball.

How often have you worked in a group where the manager hopped on some bandwagon she'd heard about at a seminar or trade show and tried to implement it without investigating the details of how it might work in your group's context?

I had an associate who had a client at the turn of the millenium she was trying to get to commit to implementing a knowledge management solution to his professional practice's professional development and training effort. It was a very appropriate idea, but "Lennie Merullo" had been in the profession a long time and nobody else did things that way. He was new to this function and was understandably afraid of trying to innovate and look like a fool. The consultant's boss trusted her, but Lenny didn't.

My suggestion to her was to take Merullo to a knowledge management trade show, where he could hear smart and enthused fellow-managers talk about the benefits, be informed by their questions, and see a broad field of systems, products and methods offerings. She took my suggestion but had to cancel at the last minute to take care of another client's emergency meltdown, and Lennie went alone. "Better than nothing," I thought.


The first person he talked to was a vendor with a loud, garish eye-catching booth. The vendor was selling a very powerful search utility, something that could have made a fine last minute addition to a knowledge management system, but could never be even a critical component of a knowledge management system. The company that made the utility had defined their product as knowledge management, something that seemed hot at the time and that many people didn't know better than to believe. The vendor filled Lennie's head with vaporous illusions from which Lennie didn't escape. For the rest of the show, his mind was empty to the possibilities, filled only with this first easy-sounding approach.

He came back. He insisted on implementing search and search alone as what he called a knowledge management solution. He wouldn't listen to her advice or warnings. The group wasted a few months in implementation and tweaking the system but it didn't, because it couldn't, yield any significant benefits.

A lot of innovation initiatives don't even have a 15-minute presentation at a gabfest to justify their initiation. Frequently in government and business especially, some higher-up will demand a change in vague or unclear terms and the line manager will implement without asking follow-up questions. Sometimes the higher-ups don't know any more than they said (a common problem in American management is executives who initiate even though they're ill-informed because they feel like that's their rôle and if they wenre't constantly launching a new re-org ot churning dust-bunnies people would think less of them).

Don't pull a Lenny. Don't hesitate to innovate, but do at least the easy-to-do research first, imagine how it moght work in your own system, what you could do that would make it work better in your context, or at least test it in a small, controlled way before you hinge any significant effort on it.

And whatever you do, don't lace your shoes back-to-front unless you have a great dental plan without co-pay..

Harris pulled another Lenny in the same move -- he decided Pierre need to be more like Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs, and in the next entry, I tell you why it's impossible and why managers pull this Lenny all the time.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Warrior In The Spotlight
But Adrift In The Doldrums  

Reprise From Feb '04:

Synchronicity. I'm running this again because I an ex-client just called me about a situation exactly like the one I discuss, and because Don Malcolm, the baseball researcher whose work I discussed, is about to go back on line with some new material. With Don, it's bound to be stimulating and generate impassioned responses. And threats.

Ever had an employee who just shined in the crisis moments and the most important assignments but sort of two-stepped his way to mediocrity for the ordinary?

Don Malcolm, the Ralph Nader of sabermetrics (bound to polarize a room into two groups: big fans and people who'd like to strangle him because of their own inner demons or limitations), published a new study to test a theory about batters who hit differently against good opposition than they do against bad. In Pedro Guerrero and the Dark Ravine, he analyses year-by-year splits of Pedro Guerrero's batting stats. Pete Warrior consistently, almost universally, hit better against good teams than bad.

Here's a slice of the information, a part of Guerrero's career, Don presented:

Year   Op    BA   OBP   SLG  OPS+  Op    BA   OBP   SLG  OPS+
1980   x   .311  .330  .495   134  y   .338  .404  .500   159
1981   x   .313  .371  .467   140  y   .283  .359  .461   134
1982   x   .339  .418  .586   186  y   .268  .339  .482   134
1983   x   .328  .417  .630   197  y   .273  .343  .450   126
1984   x   .277  .364  .462   136  y   .316  .362  .462   135
1985   x   .347  .451  .639   210  y   .286  .392  .498   154
1987   x   .351  .432  .582   189  y   .327  .411  .503   162
TOT    x   .328  .409  .566   178  y   .296  .369  .476   141

The first set of numbers are against good opponents (ones with good winning records), the second set against bad ones (the teams with bad records). The key number is OPS+ a single-number measure of offensive quality. Anything above 120 is very good, and usually only 16 to 20 players a year produce enough offense overall to have an OPS over 130. As you can see, while Guerrero was excellent against bad teams, he was much better, completely transcendant, against the good ones during this seven year stretch, and only in one year was he just the same.

That's counter-intuitive. As a rule, better teams have better pitching --not universally, but it's rarer for a good team to have bad pitching that's easy to knock around than for a bad team. For example in the National League in 2003, three of the four teams that made the playoffs finished in the top half in ERA, and the fourth, Atlanta, missed the top half by one spot. All four teams were in the top half in fewest hits and walks and homers allowed per 9 innings, and all but Atlanta were in the top half in strikouts per 9 innings. That's one data point, & while not universally determined, it's solid as a general rule.

Malcolm has used this tool to try to see if there's some predictive measure. For example, he noted Bobby Kielty failed against poor teams while succeeding against good ones, and thinks it might presage greater success the following season, that is, that a breakdown against poor competition is possibly easily remediated if it appears the batter has solid performance against the good teams' pitching. Malcom's going to study a range of other batters to see how common this pattern is and if it correlates in a way that makes it useful as a predictor.

If it turns out Guerrero is very unusual, he might end up being remembered for more than doing to third base fielding what Hitler did to Poland.

Outside of baseball, you see this pattern all the time. It's very common in sales departments because too frequently the department has designed incentives to reward the sharks who can close big deals now. So a lot of salesfolk reserve their biggest efforts for the star venues.

Ever go to a Broadway performance in the afternoon? If the main cast members and not the understudies are on stage, you'll inevitably see one or two who are award-deserving at night performances easing through with minimum effort during the day.

I worked with a copywriter who only pulled out the stops for the marquee jobs -- she could be brilliant or mediocre/replacement level (by choice) and it correlated totally to the name-recognition of the client.

In France, the whole nation's organizational culture used to be gripped by this. Perhaps it's not such a sharp dichotomy now, but when I lived there, if you went to a fine restaurant, you got exceptional cooking, much better than the average for here. If you went to a low-end place, it was much below our average. This pattern even extended to individual menu items: they'd make a giant, Pedro Guerrero effort on the fancy specials, and two-step in an ordinary way down at the bottom of the menu with their less expensive or showy dishes.

As a manager you can control quality when you notice this pattern. You can try to balance the mojo for particular jobs by offering other incentives (gifts, recognition, etc.) on the apparently-lesser jobs. You can try to fake out the Pedro Guerrero by telling her these unimportant jobs really are marquee (short term possibility, not long). If you have multiple staff, you can just give all the high-tone jobs to the Guerrero and dole out the rest to everyone else (I don't recommend this approach). Or you can confront the Guerrero and tell her she has to show better effort on the less showy jobs.

The approach you take should hinge on what other staff you have and whether you think the Guerrero can change. But there's a lot to learn by following Malcolm's approach and trying to discern patterns. You should always be observing your staff to see what they do well and don't do well, so you can optimise your task delegation, change incentives or re-design job descriptions.

¿And while you're at it, will you puh-leeze get Pedro Guerrero off third base and back into left field?

Monday, February 21, 2005

The Day the Gonzo Died  

From The Kentucky Derby is Decadent & Depraved:

He had done a few good sketches, but so far we hadn't seen that special kind of face
I felt we would need for a lead drawing. It was a face I'd seen a thousand times
at every Derby I'd ever been to. I saw it, in my head, as the mask of the whiskey gentry
--a pretentious mix of booze, failed dreams and a terminal identity crisis; the inevitable
result of too much inbreeding in a closed and ignorant culture. One of the key genetic rules
in breeding dogs, horses or any other kind of thoroughbred is that close inbreeding
tends to magnify the weak points in a bloodline as well as the strong points. In horse
breeding, for instance, there is a definite risk in breeding two fast horses who are
both a little crazy. The offspring will likely be very fast and also very crazy.
So the trick in breeding thoroughbreds is to retain the good traits and filter out the bad.
But the breeding of humans is not so wisely supervised, particularly in a narrow Southern society
where the closest kind of inbreeding is not only stylish and acceptable, but far more convenient
--to the parents--than setting their offspring free to find their own mates, for their own reasons
and in their own ways. (
"Goddam, did you hear about Smitty's daughter?
She went crazy in Boston last week and married a ni*!")
So the face I was trying to find in Churchill Downs that weekend was a symbol,
in my own mind, of the whole doomed atavistic culture that makes the Kentucky Derby what it is.
Hunter S. Thompson

I'm doing my twice a year divergence off topic to pay brief tribute to a unique talent who was one of the inspirations that propelled me into sportswriting. Hunter S. Thompson, Raoul Duke, died yesterday, and, as with every other creative act he performed, on a deadline of his own choosing.

This isn't going to be an obit. There's no point, because good ones have already appeared, most notably this one in The San Francisco Chronicle. It's not going to be post-mortem praise (he was a reprehensible id-monster in many ways, especially in his dealings with women; he had a hell of a time meeting any deadlines). Consider it a explanation of why he is important, even when his writing rarely reached the miracle standard of which he was capable. I think he created a lot of the foundation that evolved into the smashmouth Internet and TV journalism tradition that features adversarial in-your-face criticism. I think Thompson, however, picked targets he truly disliked. He didn't just go out of his way to fabricate his disdain in order to have something to say. And there's a lot of his cognitive DNA in my own writing, at least a lot of the portion that's worth reading. And I came upon the magic of his good writing at an early age.

When I was still a teenager, he wrote a lengthy article, The Kentucky Derby is Decadent & Depraved, for Scanlon's Monthly, a magazine I subscribed to. I didn't know who he was (I think he'd never published anything in his own voice, just that which went through standard editing) but he made a big impression on me. I read the article three times at the first sitting. It was like no other reporting I'd ever read about sports -- or anything else. Because of this article, I came to believe my interest in sports meant more than the enjoyment I got in being a fan or playing at them.

I was wacky about sports. I played whenever I could and followed them, to, until I lost interest in following for a time, but I kept my passion for playing. It seemed to me, even then, that sports were not just standalone events, but revealing views of our culture -- inextricable from who we were as a society.

If you've never read Thompson at his best, that fear and loathing at the Kentucky Derby article I linked to above is a trenchant example of that insight, and one, I think, he trumped just once. It embodies what I think are the two original aspects to his writing.

First, his writing voice was profane, salted with focused anger, and wrapped the story away from the on-field event and around the meaning the event had in the watchers' lives and what choices those lives were taking. He used the most popular of popular culture as a way to observe and analyse and comment on the culture in which he lived and sub-cultures to which he was an outsider. A traditional ethnographer brings to the table a certain aloofness, neutrality to the observation. She's careful not to create stress, a factor which always changes behavior.

Thompson intentionally created stress. There's nary a shred of sympathy for the insiders, barely any constraint on the cognitive terrorism he was compelled to release on the "connected", especially in making up lies to mess with their cognates, as in this excerpt from the Derby story:

"Say," he said, "you look like you might be in the horse business...am I right?"

"No," I said. "I'm a photographer."

"Oh yeah?" He eyed my ragged leather bag with new interest. "Is that what you got there--cameras? Who you work for?"
"Playboy," I said.

He laughed. "Well, goddam! What are you gonna take pictures of--nekkid horses? Haw! I guess you'll be workin' pretty hard when they run the Kentucky Oaks. That's a race just for fillies." He was laughing wildly. "Hell yes! And they'll all be nekkid too!"

I shook my head and said nothing; just stared at him for a moment, trying to look grim. "There's going to be trouble," I said. "My assignment is to take pictures of the riot."

"What riot?"

I hesitated, twirling the ice in my drink. "At the track. On Derby Day. The Black Panthers." I stared at him again. "Don't you read the newspapers?"

The grin on his face had collapsed. "What the hell are you talkin' about?"

"Well...maybe I shouldn't be telling you..." I shrugged. "But hell, everybody else seems to know. The cops and the National Guard have been getting ready for six weeks. They have 20,000 troops on alert at Fort Knox. They've warned us--all the press and photographers--to wear helmets and special vests like flak jackets. We were told to expect shooting..."

"No!" he shouted; his hands flew up and hovered momentarily between us, as if to ward off the words he was hearing. Then he whacked his fist on the bar. "Those sons of bitches! God Almighty! The Kentucky Derby!" He kept shaking his head. "No! Jesus! That's almost too bad to believe!" Now he seemed to be sagging on the stool, and when he looked up his eyes were misty. "Why? Why here? Don't they respect anything?"

I shrugged again. "It's not just the Panthers. The FBI says busloads of white crazies are coming in from all over the country--to mix with the crowd and attack all at once, from every direction. They'll be dressed like everybody else. You know--coats and ties and all that. But when the trouble starts...well, that's why the cops are so worried."

He sat for a moment, looking hurt and confused and not quite able to digest all this terrible news. Then he cried out: "Oh...Jesus! What in the name of God is happening in this country? Where can you get away from it?"

"Not here," I said, picking up my bag. "Thanks for the drink...and good luck."

Thompson knew this truth: That in any culture, sport is where people go to escape the constraints of their everyday lives, whether it's as a spectator or as a participant. For most who are interested, it's an area of vulnerability because they willingly make themselves vulnerable in this area of their lives. We all know the jock or rabid fan who, unable to bond to a significant other for more than handful of weeks is completely capable of having an emotional breakdown about a favored team's loss, a jockey out sick and missing a day of racing the fan was going to bet on, or even a trade that merely looks bad and hasn't actually played out yet.

So it's ethnologically revealing to observe people at "play", involved in sports, because they are more likely to reveal their own nature and their culture's.

Thompson took that a step farther. He hosed down the vulnerable with stress to elicit raw behavior, an attempt to peel back the gauze all see through when we look at our own culture. Everything they were comfortable with, he screwed with. All the small behaviors became big, easier (and more comical and sad and disgusting) to observe.

So Thompson's first original view was: Whatever you could observe in people that was worth knowing was more easily observed through their relationship with sports. The results were stunning. Hunter Thompson knew and revealed more about the American character between the coasts as it existed and exists than any of the other ethnographers who have tried to describe it. He doesn't bring the effete filters of the coastally acculturated observers who have tried to explain it. If you ever need to go on a journey to the heart of the American dream, Thompson is the most astute native observer of non-coastal American values you could take along.

His other original approach was his relationship with the truth. Professional journalism has a prescribed relationship with the truth. It's been sagging in the last couple of decades with more business-oriented management that knows the tough consequences of some truths to the bottom line. But the average professional reporter has a very high standard and an automatic response to issues that might muddy that in a story.

Thompson's stories were truer than any of his competitors -- but they had nothing to do with the truth. He made up quotes, perhaps entire days of reporting. So what makes him different from Jayson Blair who did it to avoid having to do real work? What makes him different from Jack Kelley who did it to burnish individual stories or his reputation or his chances for a Pulitzer?

What makes Thompson's work and his relationship with the truth original is his tales are in the Southern story-teller tradition: Clearly not true in the details but aimed at finding the essential truths about people and situations. You can throw away every who, what, when and where in a Thompson story, but he tended to dominate the competition with his exposition of the how and why he wrote. Like John McGraw, he used his competitors' adherence to the rules as an edge with which to beat them senseless.

That traditional tightly-wound reporter relationship with the truth makes his deviant grandiose and self-disserving journalistic transgressions more enjoyable, even to someone who buys into the tradition completely.

Hunter S. Thompson made a career out of making a rubble of traditions. I think I wouldn't have liked him if we'd met. As a former section editor, I have nothing but sympathy for the editor who is responsible for deadlines that don't move who works with a writer who is barely capable of meeting one. And it's worse when that writer hits so many home runs. The average, replacement level reporter who practices that relationship with time doesn't last long -- you just get rid of her. But because you never know if the assignment you give out to a writer like Thompson is going to be one of those unforgettable gems, you tend to let him do that to you over and over. Thompson just took joy in crashing deadlines of others' choosing and chose to live his life and produce his work on his own damned schedule.

I wasn't surprised then, that when it came time to meet his final deadline, he wasn't about to let someone else or the Big Managing Editor in the Sky pick the moment. He went out, as he lived, on his own time and his own terms.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Minnesota Twins' Cosmic Enlightenment:
Success Through Knowing
the Contributor Is Not the Job Description  

One of the most common whiffs in big organization management is one they foolishly view as a big hit. That's the manager deluding himself the job description (a title, a set of tasks and directions) is the same things as the actual contributor doing the job. Michelle is a CFO. Derek is a shortstop. Geoffrey is a major general.

One of the secrets to the Minnesota Twins' chronic success is that they don't delude themselves that way.

Of course, this "the contributor is the job description" approach was net-positive early in the last century. It took hold when the military and then as a result manufacturing organizations divided jobs into finer and finer pieces of defined work. Careful division enabled machines/equipment to produce mass quantities of standardized output. At the bottom layers of an organization, job descriptions were defined around technologies, so that each person became a midwife to the machine he worked with. As you moved up the hierarchy, job descriptions were defined around controlling and making uniform the output from the people-who-were-the-machines'-peripherals.

This movement, because it was successful at producing income- & output efficiencies in its early stages, became what many ideas which are very successful in early, moderate applications become. A Cult.

Simple-minded adherents figure if a tablespoon is useful, a quart must be better. Followers of F.W. Taylor's theories (rolled into a belief system called Taylorism) ultimately worked his useful ideas into a Cult through roughly the following set of conclusions:

  • Machines are hard-working and close to predictable while humans are not.
  • Machines are superior to humans.
  • Why can't humans be more like machines?
  • If we treat humans like they were machines, they will approximate the benefits we get from machines.
  • The more we treat humans as machines, the more benefit we can get from them. People and their skills can be better managed as though they are machines.

If you're training lieutenants or QC line inspectors, uniformity and predictability are core elements of success, but that was true even in only a tiny minority of jobs. Taylorists took this model off the battlefield and factory floor and applied it to office work and even, eventually, creative endeavors (if you doubt the latter, you've never watched TV sitcoms, where every rôle is as uniformly & tightly defined from show to show as brake drums coming off an assembly line). So even those staffers who weren't midwives to machines had their talents constrained by this expensive delusion that was not even vaguely efficient outside of its original context.

Many managers grew up in their careers taking the Cult that Taylorism became as Truth. Baseball is a fantastic filter to expose the fallacy. Some teams' scouting and field managers follow the Cult to some degree, but most don't, and the ones that don't perform better over time.

For years, observers looking at the Twins' opening day roster and knowing the team owners' tight-fistedness would imagine that failure was right around the corner. But the Twins are as adept at winning games and getting into the playoffs as any team is. One of their success techniques is the realization that the job description is not the player and that a definition made at any stage along the player's career might change to get better output from the contributor in what is then the current context.

This week an interview with team skipper Ron Gardenhire graced the pages of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Three of the answers to the reporter's questions displayed both this realization and how you can apply it as a manager yourself.

Q: Coaches believe that Michael Cuddyer has looked more comfortable at second than third. How do you feel about playing him at third?
A: He could still play second if Luis Rivas comes in and doesn't play well. I could put Cuddy over at second. Then I can put [Eric] Munson at third or Terry Tiffee. I've got options. There's lot of things that could happen here, but I want Cuddyer over at third. I think it is time. I think he is comfortable in the major leagues and has been able to make adjustments to different roles. I think he likes second base a lot, but he also understands the opportunity to get 400-500 at-bats at third, and I think he's ready for it.

Even in the majors, they've been using one of their leading prospects, Michael Cuddyer, in different positions on the field. They didn't define him as a third-baseman or a second-baseman, or even a utility infielder. They defined him, in part because of their own requirements, as a player who got appearances at a couple of positions while he matured and got used to the league. That also gave them insights into his aptitudes at a major league level.

This management awareness is especially rare with a leading prospect. While a young player of middling expectation will frequently be tracked to be a utility player or swing-man, it's the low expectations themselves that determine management investing little attention in exactly how the player can be best applied. Cuddyer is a high-ranked Twin prospect, and the temptation with those hopefuls is to define them early and tightly into a defined rôle. That simplifies management's work (one less thing to have to think about is a benefit).

Please note, also, this rejection of the Cult that Taylorism became isn't just about making Cuddyer feel good. Cuddyer "likes second base a lot", but it's not about the player's preferences, it's about what makes the most success for the team and the player.

Beyond baseball, managers too often mistakenly view the contributor as the job title he has, or constrain her possible contributions to what's delineated on the job description. If you don't experiment to discover what your staffer does well, you're most likely pimping your employer and yourself, leaving unused benefits to you and your organization unharvested.

Q: Do you view Joe Mays as your No. 5 starter?
A: I hate putting numbers on things. I view him as being one of our starters. He has to prove he's healthy and can get hitters out. We want Joe back. We've got some money behind this guy, and we hope he lives up to his contract.

Gardenhire is working from the idea that the player is not the job description. If you define someone as a #5 starter or a #1 starter, you're crazy-glued to the preconception that she is a borderline contributor or an ace. This is another example of lazy thinking. It provides the manager a chance to stop experimenting, to reduce or stop observation, to reduce or stop mentoring and training. If Mays gets hot, Gardenhire will use him as though he's pitching well (the reality of Mays' performance, not the job description)

Staffers, you'll find, are more like major league pitchers than you'd like to think: Most are inconsistent. They have areas of weakness and strength for sure, but over time these evolve, and, of course, on any given day each might be playing to her full potential or be having an off day in the field or something in between. You have to stay alert and observant for these changes, even if its inconvenient to your sense of comfort. There's probably little you can do as a manager that will yield more torque than observing your staffers and applying those observations to deliver actions. Too many managers define the contributor as a #5 starter and dissipate the organization's investment by not getting the most out of him.

Q: Have you kicked around a few lineups yet?
A: Oh, you do that all winter. Some people have great ideas in these papers. I've read the Internet and read projected lineups. It's all very entertaining. First, you have to see who will be in the lineup before you start writing down lineups. The big thing in spring is getting guys at-bats. So, if I think a guy is not getting enough at-bats, you'll see me bat him first or second so he can get more at-bats.

Beyond baseball, it's a useful convenience to be able to have a lineup in mind before a project starts. Who will do what, and when. You need to have some concept of it when playing out the project plan, at least a workable model. But more often than not with human contributors, you get injuries and hot streaks and cold streaks, and you have to cobble together a lineup on any given day based on what the environment offers up, shifting tasks, borrowing or loaning resources, creating ad-hoc work teams, re-examining basic assumptions. If you spend too much time mourning the inability to field your pre-conceived lineup, you are likely to either try to stick with it even if it isn't working, or to keep trying to force your staff into your pre-conceived hopes in a Procrustean way.

Don't get ahead of yourself. Defined rôles tend to be useful to a manager (reducing the number of decisions you have to make) and tend to be easy on players (don't have to flex themselves as much). But the net-benefit tends to be significantly less than a flexible approach achieves, and certainly so in an organization where the talent is the product.

A lot of the defenders of the Cult that evolved from Taylorism like to think, or at least argue, that alternatives are "new age" or touchy-feelie. That's merely part of their delusion.

It's not "humanism" to break away from the Cult that Taylorism became, or even humanitarian. It's just the cold assessment that it doesn't work and can't work in most workplaces outside of Red Chinese prison labor camps, maquiladora sweat shops and TV sitcom development. Thinking anything else is a delusion of the magnitude that thinking that machines can be like people (which is not only a delusion but sick, if you think about it -- who would want a machine to be like a person? What possible advantage could it have over a machine being a machine?). Letting the outmoded, implicit assumptions spawned by the Cult that Taylorism became limits your ability to advance productivity in the group you manage.

If you doubt it, just watch the Minnesota Twins' changes year to year, the enlightened way they use the small-budget talent they have flexibly to persist in being competitive.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Priapic Passion for Pennant
Pilots Pirates Into the Reefs  

It's always been the intent of this weblog to be more of a community than just a place for me to "flap my lips", as a great poet once said. It's been a while since I had a volunteer with the combo field experience and insights and a willingness to ante up those insights.

So I consider us lucky today to have a guest column from Brian Kopec (Willie Stargell's swing, Jose Canseco's back) of the Pirate-centric weblog Batting Third.

“We obviously realize the long-term goal is to win a championship
and we need some more players to do that."
Dave Littlefield, GM, Pittsburgh Pirates, July 3, 2004

Have you ever worked for an organization that was under so much pressure to compete in the immediate moment that decisions management made to relieve that pressure undermined the long term competitive goals of the organization? You can clearly see this type of decision-making and its consequences in the competitive and highly-pressurized world of professional baseball.

One of the great things about baseball is the inner workings of management are visible to anyone who can read a newspaper. Every decision, from the sale of ballpark-naming rights to who should be the Class A Minor League team’s pitching coach, is available for us to analyze.

EXAMPLE: THE PITTSBURGH PIRATES The story of the Pittsburgh Pirates over the last decade delivers a prime example of how poor performance begets pressure begets even poorer performance.

In 1992, the Pirates lost in the NLCS for the third straight season. After the season, the team suffered a critical, if predictable, blow when league MVP Barry Bonds left as a free agent. Over the next three seasons, the team stumbled to unimpressive 5th-, 3rd-, and 5th place finishes. The recent history of playoff appearances meant the media and fans granted a measure of patience and latitude with the team’s management.

In 1996, then-General Manager Cam Bonifay announced a five-year plan to bring the Pirates back to a championship level, coinciding with the opening of a new ballpark. As years #2, #3, and #4 of the plan expired, the fans, media and owner began to apply pressure to win now, causing a subtle shift in the front office’s execution.

Rather than building towards a championship, Bonifay’s front office began making transactions designed to achieve short-term success, and the kinds of moves they executed made it probable that short-term meant short-lived, too. The Bucs signed aging veterans such as injury-prone Kevin Young in early 1999 and then in late 2000, they signed Derek Bell (coming off a perfectly 50th percentile season) both to overpriced contracts. They did this as stop gaps in an attempt to achieve the legitimacy of a .500 record to buffer the pressure from fans, media and the owner.

In 2001, the 5th year of the plan, Bonifay was fired in the midst of a last place season and replaced as GM by David Littlefield.

Just as when Bonifay was hired, Littlefield was granted a measure of patience by the fans and media because the team had just opened a beautiful new park and because baseball insiders thought the farm system looked buff after years of attention and build-up. Still, pleasant surroundings can only distract the paying customers from a mediocre (at best) present for so long. The pressure is back on. The Littlefield front-office response to it has been eerily similar to the botch-job that bit Bonifay.

This off-season, The Bucs made two transactions that provide mounting evidence that pressure to produce a winner has caused Littlefield’s team to lose sight of their long term goal to win the championship.

11/11/2004: Pittsburgh Pirates re-sign 38 year old relief pitcher Jose Mesa for $2.5 MM.

12/16/04: The Pittsburgh Pirates acquire 39 year old catcher Benito Santiago, along with cash considerations, from Kansas City in exchange for 21 year old pitching prospect Leo Nunez.

In both cases, Littlefield has acquired aged veterans with mixed track records to staff positions at which the organization has younger, better long term options. It can only be an attempt to achieve short-term, short-lived success. Worse yet, in order to acquire Santiago, Littlefield had to spend a promising young pitching prospect. True, prospects like Nunez are nothing more than a fistful of lottery tickets, but each is a lottery ticket that may have a big future payoff. All of 40-year old Santiago’s tomorrows are yesterdays; he’s certain to have no future payoff.

Rather than acquire these veterans, the long term goal of the organization would have been better served by placing ready young players Mike Gonzalez and JR House in those roles. The Pirates chances for contending this year are small – the additional mojo they can get from Mesa and Santiago, if it happens, won’t make their goal of a championship improve, even microscopically. Letting House and Gonzalez occupy those roster slots would also save dollars for future use. And even if they fail, that is valuable information to the long term success of the franchise; it’s feedback on the farm system so the team can know what specific skills it’s doing a good job with, and what other aptitudes prospects need help with to succeed in the majors in the current environment.

I once worked within a small division (we’ll call it M) inside a medium sized company. This division produced and sold a single product: a large, encompassing piece of software designed for a specific, highly specialized industry with a very limited but very wealthy pool of potential customers.

M was a bit of a misfit within the organization, the only division that dealt in technology. The core competency of the company was management consulting and its bread and butter clients were the giant tobacco companies.

Within a couple of years of its debut, M’s product was able to acquire a significant share of the market through M’s willingness to rapidly produce feature-rich releases catered to the smaller players in the industry who were otherwise unable to develop competitive solutions in-house.

Unfortunately, the speed-to-delivery and complexity of the system resulted both in high development costs and poor quality, not a good combo. Still, the overall early strategy was thoroughly defensible: The software product had very little competition and profit potential was tremendous.

As the product matured, the division shifted resources from development to code-stabilization efforts that were necessary to ensure the long term (satisfaction of the customers) health of the business. As the product gradually transitioned from a development phase to more of a maintenance and licensing phase, M moved towards profitability.

As the 90s came to a close, reality slammed the main parts of the company’s revenue streams with a double whammy: Shrinking budgets for the company’s meat-and-potatoes consulting services and the settlement of the tobacco lawsuits that sucked money out of their biggest clients’ budgets temporarily.

The Board began to apply pressure on M to start pulling its weight. Feeling the heat, M finally achieved profitability by securing major contracts with the two largest players in the industry. M secured the contracts in the same manner it had secured contracts with the smaller players that had been its customers to date. They promised each client a unique, customized software release that catered specifically to their individual business. And they promised to deliver it on a very aggressive schedule.

To meet these new contractual agreements, M shifted resources away from the code stabilization efforts that had been demanded by its legacy customers. As a result, the features added for the two major clients were built on an unstable base, resulting in continual quality acceptance issues. As a result, one of the large clients and two legacy customers eventually ended their relationship with M. Moreover, the other large client imposed contractual penalties that have eaten whatever profits might have remained n the deals.

As a result of the pressure for short term results, M’s management made decisions that ultimately undermined its long term success.

The M division is just like the Pirates.

Years of losing has deteriorated management’s patience and put tremendous pressure to produce a winner (and pronto). To temporarily relieve that pressure (and knowing any relief would be merely temporary), both repeatedly undermined their long term goals by wastefully applying resources that might have contributed to the achievement of those goals.

Can you achieve short-term advantages without undermining long-term goals? Of course, but you have to keep the goals in mind and select from among the available short-term choices that don’t significantly degrade your probabilities for the future.

And under any circumstances, never sign Jose Mesa for a position that has to succeed for you to succeed.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy:
Sandy's Half-Brother to Survivals  

Angus' First Law of Organizational Behavior:
All human systems tend to be self-amplifying

A couple of people I've spoken with in e-mail the last month asked about why I didn't have discussions here at MBB. The answer is two reasons: (1) I had it turned on for a two week trials and the signal to noise ratio was both as frustrating and putrid as a Ben Davis at-bat with the game on the line, (2) Thanks to the energetic and capable folk at MLB Center, I have a hosted place for people to talk Management By Baseball (link). A lot of people seem to nose around, few post, but the quality is very good. Case in point, the insight from Sandy Hemenway that launched this post.

Two weeks ago, I wrote on survivals, little shards of behavior or process that originally had good reasons for being that no longer had any value but that people followed because that's what you're supposed to do. That piece on survivals opened like this:

One of the most challenging human tendencies to overcome is also one of the most damaging to management success. That tendency is to rest on a presumption until it's outmoded, but act on it without questioning it.

You sneeze and an acquaintance or stranger says "Bless you" or "Gesundheit", a call-and-response devised centuries ago to prevent evil spirits (or the
batting stance of Craig Counsell) from inhabiting your body. The father of American Anthropology Alfred Kroeber named these autonomic, unexamined behaviors "survivals". Like the useless buttons on the end of suit jacket sleeves that clothing makers almost always add, these are things that are done, unquestioned, with motivation invisible to the actor. They just do it because they do it. And they like to repeat these guidelines as advice to newcomers, perpetuating the wierdness.

I posted the entry over at the MLB Forum area, and I got an insightful comment from Sandy Hemenway. It uses fantasy baseball as the underlying example, but his point about Self-Fulfilling Prophecies happens in real baseball as well, as I'll explore later. Sandy said:

When I was just getting my feet in fantasy baseball, I jumped onto Sandbox, where Fantasy Point (rather than ROTO) is the entree served. While I fiddled around with the simple salary cap (hitters only) game, I read the Forums to try and glean tactics from those experienced before delving into an actual league with a draft. In doing so, the most oft-repeated mantra was "Pitching Wins!" This put me at a disadvantage heading into my first drafts, since my only experience was with the hitter-only salary cap game. I felt like I had a good grasp on the relative value of hitters, but was mostly flying blind in regards to pitchers.

So, when I drafted, I naturally went with my strength, and concentrated on hitters over pitchers. I EXPECTED to lose, and assumed my first year would just be a learning experience.

I won the league. Along the way I discovered the half-brother of the "survival" -- the self-fulfilling prophecy.

A side-effect I expect is common to many survivals is the SFP. In my above example, the reality was since EVERYONE believed "pitching wins", everyone drafted pitching hard and fast (especially in the early rounds). Since EVERYONE was doing it, the ultimate winner would (by default) claim, "see - I drafted pitching first, and I won my league". The fact that the 11 losers in the league did as well got more or less ignored.

Too often in business, I think MANY decisions end up becoming SFPs. You decide "X" is a solution -- if you succeed, you laud "X". If you fail, you look at the "unforeseen" circumstances that prevented "X" from behaving normally. It's a pity that more business leaders don't understand some basic Latin:

post hoc ergo proctor hoc: Greek for 'after the fact, therefore because of the fact' - occurs when a temporal relation between two events is assumed to prove that the first one caused the second one.

And let me add a point to Sandy's insight about the pitcher-centric drafting. Not only, as he says, did people believe they won because they drafted pitching first, it pushed the environment into a situation where, because everyone skilled was drafting pitching first, the team with the most successful pitching probably had the best chance of winning.

In a monocultural system where all competitors adhere to the same strategy, the one who executes the best at that approach (or has the best luck at it) is most likely to win. So it's a self-reinforcing process in the mold, mould really, of Angus' First Law. Over time, the faith builds up to religious proportions. Only an outsider more interested in experimentation than just winning will discover the self-fulfilling prophecy is a sensible idea that's ossified into automatic behavior.

The more monoculturally competitors attack their universal baseball/business problem, the more successful a different, equally (or perhaps not even quite as good) approach will favor a new competitor.

The very success of the Billy Beane/Moneyball theory rested on monocultural thinking by the overwhelming plurality of competitors. As others saw that success was possible with the DePodesta/Beane approach, the As shifted to rebalanced evaluation methods for acquiring players -- several drafts after the book's theories became widely known by the As antagonists, Oakland was still taking some of the model of players they did when the book as being written. But the Jeremy Brown/Kevin Youkilis types became more highly valued and therefore it opened up new opportunities for other kinds of valued players to slip to the As in later rounds.

When I worked at a big airplane manufacturer's computer products group, the outfit had a gatekeeper executive (I'll call him Bill Klem) who had come over from the airplane company's safety function.

Now, I am as opposed to buggy, crash-prone software as anyone in the business -- I'm an extremist. But Bill Klem was foam at the mouth rabid. In the aerospace business, zero defect/zero tolerance for defects is a strength (ask the crews of the Columbia or Challenger if I'm right). So it wasn't surprising Klem would blanch when he heard the computer-word "crash" spoken -- he just had to outlaw it.

But in the software business, especially in the development of complex software, certain kinds of defects are things end-users can ignore -- their consequences have work arounds or cause a one- or two second delay in screen display or print gratuitously a blank page at the end of a 21 page report. The challenge with debugging software, as so many of you already know, is that finding and repairing the defect that causes the blank page to print can be just as time-consuming and difficult as finding a serious flaw.

So while the group was trying to get out two new complex software offerings, Bill Klem was holding them up until they were zero defect like a commercial airliner would need to be. He crashed numerous deadlines but was intransigent. Quarters passed while competitors sold solutions to prospective customers. Finally upper management stepped in and forced a new team into the place of Klem's. The software shipped. It was very very high quality, with some minor bugs, but lost momentum and customer interest because it was so late to market.

Klem pointed out to anyone who would listen that it was the bugs that killed the products' chances for success. And that's the story that lives on. Last week, over a decade after I had even thought of Bill Klem, I ran into a old colleague and in talking he repeated the Klem version as gospel. Apparently, the company internalized that "lesson" and is still struggling with its own internal software because it over-values zero-defect code.

This fits Sandy's insight of selective post-facto description of causation.

BTW: The bugginess of commercial software is a self-fulfilling prophecy, too. Because the IT customers for most commercial software believe bugginess is a "normal" state of affairs, they are willing to buy and deply buggy software and wait for some updates or service packs to fix obvious problems. In turn, this emboldens software publishers to allow more major bugs into the systejms they sell as release-quality. Of course, if the bugs affect IT a lot, that's costly, and if they hose the executives, that's costly. But if they just inconvenience a wide swath of ordinary users, well, IT will go along with it because the lost productivity never shows up on their books -- and the self-amplifying model comes into play again. It probably takes more courage on the part of an IT department to refuse to buy buggy software than a service department can be expected to have.

It only takes a little ante and a willingness to perhaps implode publically to got against the self-fulfilling prophecies of competitors. In real baseball or real organizations outside it, it takes more courage to do it.

In reality, that's really a choice opportunity. Because the more courage it takes, the more uniform the adherence to the norm will be, the more value there is to be harvested in taking a different, well-thought-out strategy.

Think like Paul DePodesta or Sandy Hemenway and take a chance on an alternate strategy in facing a monocultural belief system.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Negotiation Tip #7: Barry Bonds' Biceps,
Brad Reed & Marvin Miller  

One of the 20th century's most successful negotiators in any field was baseball's Marvin Miller. The man who created an effective (close to undefeated in head-to-head competition) baseball players' association, is a lawyer who built upon his strong aptitude at research and division of labor with a passion for achievement, then topped it with an ability to play out strings of consequences and a knack for innovation to create, and to some degree control, change.

One of the aptitude clusters that enabled him to be more than just a visionary (dime-a-dozen) and actually render change in a deliberate, channeled way, was his extraordinarily fine ability to negotiate. I've written about negotiation a number of times here; I believe it's one of the essential tools for almost any management position, so I won't blather on that subject again (if you want background on why its essential, use the Google search blivet in the top left corner of the MBB home page and search for "negotiation").

Because baseball is such an open book relative to other enterprises, the way negotiators use tools is on as full display as you'll ever see them. One of the tools in Miller's kit became obvious lately, thanks to insightful reader Brad Reed.

Back on January 26, I wrote about Marvin Miller's comments on the baseball-in-steroids scandal. Miller pointed out there was no evidence whatsoever that bulkier players, steroids or no, were more effective or better players, and also that while Bonds looked bulkier than he was as a young player, that's a normal pattern for athletic men as they age and he made Babe Ruth (unarguably pre-steroids) the case in point. I support both Miller's contentions, and most of the mail I got disagreed, missed the points and argued others.

The elegant and valuable exception was the message from Reed that pointed out one of the essential tactics of successful negotiation: Selecting the facts that support your conclusions while concurrently knowing the other, opposing, facts. Miller has mastered this, as Reed points out, and if you're ever going to be a great neogtiator, you'll need to be adequate at this, too.

Brad Reed's note (abridged):

Though I agree wholeheartedly with the point of your posting on January 26, 2005, I think there's something that should be added.

Marvin Miller's assertions are a creative use of cherry-picking facts.

By pairing the sight of Barry Bonds at twenty-one versus forty-one, Miller makes Bonds's gain in bulk seem wholly natural. Hey, Cal Ripken was a reed-thin whip when he arrived, and left the game a beefy man. Happens all the time, even among non-athletes. But here's the shifty part: Bonds's increase in weight came in his late thirties. Natural "filling out" occurs in a man's early twenties.

Until recently, Bonds was a thin figure. Bonds at twenty-one and Bonds at thirty-one weren't that different in stature. Even when lifting weights conscientiously, a man in his late thirties cannot produce the rapid increase in bulk that Bonds demonstrated without chemical assistance.

Miller has to know this. Yet he obscured this fact by using a wide data set (twenty years) rather than the relevant data set (seven years or so) when making his point.{SNIP} I think it important to point out Miller's rhetorical trick.

It is important. Though I would call it the second half of a technique rather than a trick.

In any negotiation outside one's own family, one needs first to line up the facts on both sides and weigh them, examine them before the actual negotiation.If you only do the second part, cherry-pick your supporting facts, you've not done half the job, you've done, effectively, none of it. You won't be in a position to know your antagonist's side of the equation. If you aren't prepared to negotiate her side as well, you have put yourself at a disadvantage when she counters because you won't have turned over in your hands the strengths and weaknesses of that constellation of arguments. Like always swinging at the first pitch, you never give yourself a chance to maneuver the conversation where it benefits you.

Marvin Miller always understood his antagonists' arguments at least as well as they did themselves, sometimes even better. I suggest strongly, if you haven't already read Miller's autobiographical history of the time he played point for the players' union, A Whole Different Ballgame, it's fascinating reading and great support for one's negotiation education as well as other necessary management tools.

One of my favorite parts of this tool is it's easy to practice both halves of it, like a simulation. You can take incidents from your own organization or baseball, and research both sides of the facts, organize them, guess which ones will emerge in the dialogue, prepare both sides. If you shadow in-process ones within your organization you're not involved in directly, you can watch the events play out and correct or improve your abilities. Then, when the real thing comes up, you'll have had practice at the techniques. For some people, this simulation would fall into the category of "fun" (hey, it's more fun than rotisserie baseball, and a lot more useful).

But you have to practice both halves. Too many of our fellowww-passengers on the 'net are lost in their own side, either refusing to see the countering facts or pretending to not see them, and neither is a becoming trait in any humanoid over the age of three.

My sole disagreement with Reed is on the bulk of the weight gain for most athletic men being in the early twenties. Not that that doesn't happen often (and may be the general case), but across the wider population, genetic makeup accounts for a decent variance (if you're in your late 30s or older, think of the men you went to college with and how they've changed over time. That Endy Chavez-bodied guy at 20 who turned Full Metal Matt Stairs at 28 after he got married or waxed Jabba The John Kruk at 33 for no apparent reason are certainly present in the population).

But Reed knows the strengths and weakness of Miller's arguments. Which is more than I can say for Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Terence Moore, who definitely saw only one side or pretended to in his contention.

"I would not vote for any artificially inflated player - and that includes Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire," Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Terence Moore said. "If this is true, this is worse than the Black Sox scandal and then, you were only talking about a few players on one team. This affects everybody. You're hurting guys like the Mickey Mantles and the Babe Ruths and you're hurting people in the game now that are legitimate."

¿Would he have voted for Ruth, who had the advantage of playing his entire career with advantages contemporary players never had...such as the exclusion of a whole swath of athletes who were as good or better than the "caucasian" subset of men who were allowed to play the game and the intentional exclusion of men they called "colored" without consideration of skill/merit? Moore hasn't proved (that I can find anywhere) that supplements of any kind that McGwire and Bonds have taken affect performance, but he's cherry-picking players, supposition and facts to argue why he should segregate the Hall of Fame.

I've had some fun in negotiations before with half-ways like Moore. If they are really unprepared, you can take over the whole shebang, argue their side for them, say things like, "Well, you missed this lovely argument on your side, to which I suggest...". I don't suggest you ruin them in the terms of a negotiation, unless you never want to do business with them ever again. But you should walk away with every single reasonable thing you could.

I'd love to see a negotiation between Moore and Reed. Or Moore and Miller. Though it would be sort of like Bambi Meets Godzilla.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Jung at Heart: Curt Schilling & Smashing QuesTecs  

Organizations' application of pop-psychology systems and tests is proportional to their expected margin. In phat times like the 90s, people partied with them, but in lean times like these, you see them in the field less frequently than that old TV commercial with George Steinbrenner plugging Prozac.

A lot of those pop-psych systems sold to big organizations aren't actionable in the field; their introduction in the workplace is the consequence of someone with budget authority falling in love with it for the insights he learned from it wanting to spread the joy. I'm not suggesting there's not useful information to harvest from these systems, just that their lessons generally are less applicable to organizational development than they are to individual development. I call these glancing discoveries a "Yreka", a disappointing minor league example of the Archimedean "Eureka" discoveries that have serious torque.

So I was pleased this morning to discover someone is using my personal favorite Eureka pop-psych test on baseball players as a way to help them compete more effectively. I'm disappointed that, in what appears to be a marketing gimmick, they are way over-reaching the general value of the test's strengths and making it sound like a panacea, a potentially dangerous implementation of the method. I'll re-hash the essence of this morning's news, summarize the method's strengths and its limits, and tell you its applications.

You may recognize the interviewees model as the Myers-Briggs personality model, morphed out of the work of Carl Jung. If the language puts you off a bit, be patient, there's some real, practical value in the system, at least as generally used, and you don't have to be fully Jung At Heart to apply it.

Thanks to Baseball Primer, I got to read the Boston Globe's Shira Springer article about the pretentious-sounding Brain Type Institute's analysis of personality types (they call them Brain Types) of some star pitchers.

Brain typer Jon Niednagel has never sat, radar gun in hand, and watched Randy Johnson pitch. But from what he has observed a short distance from the mound and heard in postgame interviews, Niednagel identified the new Yankees pitcher as the rare INTJ brain type -- a left-brained, dominant intuitive. Niednagel feels confident drawing certain conclusions about Johnson's strengths and weaknesses. "You want to get to Randy Johnson earlier because as a left-brainer he comes out a little bit more mechanical, a little bit more nervous and uptight," said Niednagel. "The longer he throws, he'll often get better because he'll relax, whereas Pedro [Martinez] and even [Curt] Schilling, high-energy right brains, can come out pretty strong. Randy Johnson will start off slower.

"If I managed against him, I would make him go deep in the count. You get him frustrated. An INTJ will melt down faster than other types. And as a dominant intuitive, unpleasant reality shakes them up a little bit."

Excluding the brain-typing terms, none of this should come as news to Yankee manager Joe Torre or Red Sox manager Terry Francona. With established All-Stars such as Johnson, Martinez, and Schilling, Niednagel explains why the best in the game behave and pitch the way they do, why Johnson confronts a cameraman, why Martinez calls the Yankees "my daddy," why Schilling competes with a dislocated ankle tendon. {SNIP}

The Brain Type Institute, if their site is any indication, has taken the Myers-Briggs temperament sorter as a foundation and has built on top of it a cornucopia of tools and techniques they've snipped from elsewhere, then blended it all into a proprietary amalgam. It seems from their testimonials that they already do a lot of work with individual athletes and teams, so if Niednagel is a decent practitioner, his insights quoted are likely somewhat- or very valid. But when I look at that site and look at the range of "hot topics" unrelated to temperament sorting, my "marketing over-hype alert" goes off. Here's a snippet that makes me wary:

BTI began genetically researching the various Brain Types in the mid-1990’s. Neurotransmitter DNA analysis was done at a prominent American university. Though neurotransmitter evaluation is still ongoing, BTI has also ventured into other genetic fields, searching for additional clues. One such area is Proteomics, where our ultimate goal is to identify the various inborn Brain Types strictly by urine analysis.

I'm not saying this is hype. It's that the wording in this marketing face and the conflation of so many trendy scientific areas in one paragraph smells like the pitch of a cold-call stockbroker looking to puff up pre-IPO interest. The bad grammar ("genetically researching") may also color my opinion based on my personal prejudice. I'm agnostic about them, though. I'm always interested in people that dedicate time and effort into new systems of understanding that have practical applications.

The Myers-Briggs sorter, especially in the practically-oriented incarnation smacked out into the field by David Keirsey & Marilyn Bates in their pop-psych book Please Understand Me is an extra-base hit for managers (and non-managers, too). It's a simplified version of the Jungian system, with four binary scales that result in sixteen permutations (with the results stated, like in the Neidnagel quotes, as four-letter codes like the INTJ he cites for Randy Johnson).

This method was very popular in workplaces during most of the Nineties. You may already know all this and your own type. If not, here's a site when you can fill out the sorter for free (registration req'd.) & get the results with some short analysis. Let me state firmly before you go, that you may be one of the significant minority of people who are a different type in the workplace than you are at home. Myers-Briggs enthusiasts won't usually tell you that, so if you're going to take the self-test, decide upfront which "you" you're going to answer as.

Once you've got some background in the method and understand the scales and the way they affect temperament, you can interact with a person in a public setting for as little as five to fifteen minutes and judge if they have a strong tendency towards one of the types. (NOTE: People generally exhibit different types through their life as they change; and as I already mentioned, many, not most, people have a different type at home in private than they do in a public, workplace, setting.).

This sense of probable type isn't an Echelon into someone's psyche that will permit you to know their innermost thoughts or manipulate them. It's a glance into the kinds of things that probably inspire them, probably motivate them. It's a hook to a strong possibility of better communication. That's why it's useful to a manager to work with the system long enough to harvest the ability to judge probable workplace type.

What kind of information can you get out of a quick, simple profile once you've interacted enough to get a probable type? As Neidnagel says about Pedro Martínez later in the Springer piece:

"Rather than being big-picture strategic, Pedro is one of those STs that's the best tactician," said Niednagel. "In the spur of the moment, they're really, really good. Pedro's type is great at seeing a guy in the batter's box and noticing every little thing. I'll bet if you went and talked to his manager, he would say Pedro is uncanny at noticing little quirks about opposing hitters.

This is actionable information for a pitching coach or a fellow-player looking to expand his knowledge by asking for help. It also provides a manager looking to provide coaching. For example, Neidnagel says in the article that Schilling is of the ENTP type. Here's a quote from the book Please Understand Me about Schilling's type. The says there's:

...a reclacitrance on the part of the NT -- even from an early age -- to accept without question in the domain of ideas even a widely acepted authority. The fact that a certain person proclaims soemthing, whatever his or her title, reputation or credentials, leaves the NT indifferent. The pronouncement must stand on its own merits, tried in the court of coherence, verification and pragmatics. {SNIP}This recalcitrance to established authorities tends to make an NT...seem unusally individualist and even arrogant.

Wow...that's Curt Schilling to a T: Critical of the owners, critical of the union, and critical enough of the QuesTec Umpire Evaluation System technology to pull a Mike Tyson and demolish the Phoenix ballpark's installation to make known his personal opinion.

In general, I'm very enthused about the high value of knowing enough about the Keirsey-Bates model to apply it at work. I don't think that alone it's the One Big Thing that will make you successful at people management. But if you apply it in its areas of highest value, tweaking work assignments to play to individual strengths, cobbling together ad-hoc teams with complementary types, and most of all in refining communication with the people who report to you, it's a big winner. These three applications are all important requirements for success at Second Base in the MBB Model.

But I'll reassert here: It's a tool, not a personal Echelon, everything you need to know about someone. People are not types -- they are, at any given moment, somewhat like, or very much like, the description of a type, and different individuals embrace a specific type more or less tightly over time than others do.

So when Sean Casey's testimonial for the Brain Type Institute tells me ""When I talked to Jon Niednagel, I felt like he had been living in my head for 27 years," I want to ask him, "Dude, have you been paying rent?"

Friday, February 04, 2005

Running Up the Score Through Plaque-Busting:
The Sac Bunt, Joe Ely & Re-Tooling  

Last week I wrote about "survivals", behaviors that made sense when their practice began or when they were institutionalized, but that are now behavioral plaque, no longer delivering their original benefit. I promised to describe a method I use to discover and expose them.

My presumption was that, like the sacrifice bunt, the survival was a net-benefit when it got institutionalized. Most survivals are. But a reader who works at a mega-sized multi-national that gets a lot of its margin from armaments chided me for giving survivals that benefit from the doubt. I'll call her "Bill Klem". Klem pointed out that her corporation is stuck with an onerous time-keeping system that requires every single employee to spend anywhere from four to 24 minutes a day to track and report one's time...and that's when the gathering equipment is working.

She asserts that it was never adaptive. Burning up some spare time, she wandered over to the Admin building and interviewed people in the department that collected the data to report to payroll. She discovered the Genesis of the system

"In the late seventies, the VP Finance wanted to upgrade to a more technological capture system. He intended to bid out the system but along the way met a fellow rotarian who worked with a company which had bought a small time-reporting hardware company and was diversifying into software and systems. They were looking for partners to buy the new products that wern't designed yet. They were going to let the pioneers help design the product.

The veep bought in to the idea and took it back to the company. Well, it took almost thirty months to get approval. By that time, the system guys had finished their design. For some reason, my company went ahead and bought the system thatn had been designed for an by other companies in a different industry.

What we bought didn't EVER work for us, not from the get-go, and not now. Just because its a survival does not mean it was ever functional."

Klem has a really good point. Not all survivals started out as net-positive.

But I'll reiterate what I mentioned in the previous entry, which is that in general, the most stubborn survivals are those that were so effective in their original context that their virtue became an article of Faith that people supported without continued examination.

Rooting out those once-useful methods or behaviors requires finding them first. And my esteemed colleague, Joe Ely, agreed to tag-team, writing about techniques we use to find the survivals so we can figure out if they have any value. Then, in turn, you can answer the questions:

  • Does it still work in its present form?
  • Could it be tweaked to be more effective?
  • Why did it develop in the first place?*

The first two questions are of a different nature than the last; they face the present and near-future, and are designed to help you make an immediate judgement. The last is about knowledge management, understanding where this came from so you and your associates can understand how functional solutions can evolve into survivals. Knowing that helps you design methods for better on-going evolution as well as acting as a visible lesson in the costs of insensitivity to the entropy of ignored bahevior plaque.

Joe Ely's first shared technique is to follow the flow and see where it's being slowed or re-directed. He wrote about it here.

Please read his entry then come back here.

The essence of this first technique is to ask the question: What Stops Flow?

Like a batter hitting a gapper and steaming into second base only to discover the slow-poke who had been on first stopped there already, plaque stops flow.

Not all flow-stoppers are survivals.
Not all survivals are flow-stoppers.

But starting with Joe Ely's approach will mow down a mess 'o survivals and other behavioral plaque build-up and is a fun and easy technique you can turn into a group activity in the lunchroom or even as a formal process.

In my next entry, I'll talk about how the sacrifice bunt illustrates the lag time in adapting to new situations and how you can get half-way to evolving only to stall out before you reap the full benefits of change.

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