Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Luck comes to those who stockpile the most fairy dust -- J.M. Barrie
In the previous entry, I discussed an element of change that seems to evade most managers: The fact that sometimes the nexus/place the change is happening is more important than the amount. This next Change comment addresses a flaw that's actually more prevalent, almost universal.
We all have, to some degree, Management By Wishful Thinking tendencies, believing that something will happen because it can, or believing that something will happen because it should. Having MBWT impulses is not in itself a problem, but acting on them is, especially when you're getting paid to manage. The moments that are the most infused with MBWT impulses are moments of obvious change...like baseball off-seasons or any new initiative beyond baseball. Let me touch on a baseball example first.
In the same Bill Madden New York Post spring training camp wrap I pointed to in the previous essay, he transceives Dodger management's view of their 2006 season prospects for us thusly:
VERO BEACH, FLA : After taking over as Dodgers GM on Nov. 26, Ned Colletti embarked on a whirlwind of signings and deals, enlisting Grady Little as his manager and bringing in fellow ex-Red Sox, Bill Mueller and Nomar Garciaparra as corner infielders, ex-Braves stalwart Rafael Furcal at short and troubled vagabond Milton Bradley to take over in center field. For the pitching, Colletti added much-traveled workhorse Brett Tomko and potential bloomer Jae Seo to fill out the rotation, and Danys Baez from Tampa to provide closer insurance if Eric Gagne isn't fully recovered from major elbow surgery. It's a drastic makeover of a team his predecessor, Paul DePodesta, had made a mess of, but given the weak NL West, if Little can make this all jell, the Dodgers could be legitimate contenders.
Ignore the Milton Bradley comment...we all get brain cramps occasionally, and Madden is an East Coast writer here scribing about West Coast teams.
I'm going to translate this briefly, swapping names for attributes that affect the conclusion:
VERO BEACH, FLA : After taking over as Dodgers GM on Nov. 26, Smart Guy In His 1st GM gig embarked on a whirlwind of signings and deals, enlisting Jury is out on Guy as his manager and bringing in fellow ex-Red Sox, Swell but not all-star caliber infielder and High upside, injury-prone, attitude-questioned aging infielder who will be playing out of position as corner infielders, ex-Braves stalwart borderline all-star and reckless driver sparkplug at short
and troubled vagabond Milton Bradley to take over in center field. For the pitching, Colletti added much-traveled workhorse unquestioned smart guy & consistent mediocrity starter and potential bloomer potential bloomer but could go either way to fill out the rotation, and as solid as closers get guy from Tampa to provide closer insurance if superstar closer isn't fully recovered from major elbow surgery. It's a drastic makeover of a team his predecessor, demonized ousted, had made a mess of, but given the weak NL West, if Jury is out on manager guy can make this all jell, the Dodgers could be legitimate contenders.
That's some hefty MBWT. Yes, Furcal and Mueller are clear positives in the mix, but by this narrative, to succeed a div flag is going to be contingent on proven mediocrity overperforming, people with health issues performing above their health norms, and potential bloomers blooming. HEFTY MBWT. Talibaptists giving up jihads once they've tasted Classic Coke & had an opportunity to buy Levis 524s for their virgin fiancees-caliber MBWT. The Little Deuce Côup de grace in this cognitive surfin' safari is "but given the weak NL West".
The justification for hope is not contingent on the Dodgers' strength but the uniform weakness of every other contender. This is much like Bucky Jacobsen imagining he can win the Boston marathon because the other 16,782 entrants will get shin splints while Bucky bounces perkily to a personal best. And while every other NL West contenders has question marks in their futures -- any one of them could get the alignment of the planets the McCourts' court astrologer is trying to work out for the Bums.
Change-related MBWT erupts all over the place. One of the most pervasive points is on hiring someone new. When I ran marketing operations for a mid-size company we had a structural problem in a basically adequate Sales group -- a Director who didn't know her craft well and who was more concerned with politicking than doing what it took to fix the weaknesses. Her approach was to serially hire good-looking (on their resume) males sales guys and hope they would magically sell so much that no one would have to address the real limitations her ignorance and sub-adequate judgment imposed on the company's success.
A local USPS branch office is run in a breathtakingly incompetent way. The Postmaster is functionally retarded on operational management (First Base in the MBB Model). They were not authorized to put up the signs that informed customers that rates were going up until six days after the rate change had gone into effect, and their price lists reflected old rates (not the new) until four days after that. They almost always have long lines that snake out the door, and when I was granted an audience to speak with the Postmaster's rep about it, I was told that there was a plan under discussion to install a machine that might replace the work of the equivalent of 1/2 a clerk, and until that plan was settled, they would make no changes. Over a year later, they did install the machine. As you might guess, they had put all their MBWT faith in the machine which acted almost as well as advertised, yielding no advantage. Like the MBWT of Dodger fans that allows them to think the deployment of the reliably-medium Brett Tomko will make the season a success, the USPS jokers use change as an excuse to deploy their MBWT on situations that need addressing.
The Dodgers might win the NL West, but it's lazy to believe it'll all work out because that would be nice, or because they've stockpiled the most fairy dust. The father of four decades of Dodger competitiveness, Branch Rickey, said "Luck is the residue of design," an argument that while luck is a factor, it's management' job to design plans for the best opportunity of neutralizing luck. That is, to rage against the MBWT impulses almost everyone has.
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