Friday, March 03, 2006
Most teams than win a World Series look through the windshield towards the road ahead with the thought that the most important thing you can do is not make a mistake. And the people who run a team that just won the World Series are pre-disposed to think that what got them the trophy was "not a mistake" because they won. And once a human mind is focused on successful "not a mistake", that mind is most comfortable right there and it takes a lot more effort to discard what won you the trophy (past tense) than what can win you the trophy (present and future tenses).
The poster front office for this syndrome was the 2002-2003 Angels of the O.C. who, having won the trophy, worked very hard to preserve the exact configuration of the team that won, pretending time, space, competitors, chance, and Scott Bakula didn't exist. I wrote about that disaster in detail in Anaximander, the World Champion Angels & Peter Drucker. As Anaximander spoke of, Change is inevitable and change changes in unpredictable directions and at unpredictable rates. Stasis in a competitive arena doesn't guarantee First-to-Worst
Bill Stoneman and the Angels were not an exception except Stoneman consciously pursued stasis, whereas most victims aren't choosing that course through intention but through laxness.
CONTACTING YOUR INNER CONTRARIAN
In the same New York Daily News spring training wrap I quoted in the first two parts of this series, Bill Madden scribed thusly about the World Champion Chicago White Sox:
TUCSON, ARIZ: The defending world champion White Sox hardly rested on their laurels, adding Jim Thome from the Indians to replace Frank Thomas as DH, Javy Vazquez from Arizona to replace Orlando Hernandez as their No. 5 starter, and Rob Mackowiak from the Pirates to replace Geoff Blum as an all-purpose utilityman. In addition, the focus will be on two homegrown products, 6-7 righthander Brandon McCarthy and center fielder Brian Anderson, whom the Sox are counting on to be impact players. McCarthy will be eased into the rotation by performing long relief while Anderson takes over for the popular Aaron Rowand. On paper, the White Sox appear deeper and even better, but with the emphasis on repeating, manager Ozzie Guillen will keep a close eye on Thome's suspect physical condition, McCarthy's ability to adjust and Anderson's bat.
Humm baby. That's a lot of voluntary change for an incumbent World Champ. White Sox GM Ken Williams has internalized the Anaximander philosophy as much as any manager in America. He has an unusual public personality trait -- an extreme modesty and self-deprecation that I'm guessing is a technique to keep himself sharp. No matter what success he accomplishes, he tells himself that he is not that great, that maybe he was just lucky, that he needs to prove himself all over again. His zero-complacency project seems like a daily routine, but as exhausting as it must be, he seems relentless about it. Winning the World Series seems to have amplified his caution about counting on luck.
For the middle of their batting order, the White Sox replaced one old, used-up guy who probably has little left but who was their franchise player (their franchise player) with a slightly younger guy who, in spite of some injury questions, has managed to put up 40% more plate appearances over the last three years. . This reinforces the message to every player on the team that change is necessary. I reminds each individual that the team is more about team than it is a collection of individuals.
The White Sox upgraded their 5th starter. As much as I respect El Duque, Vásquez is seven years younger as well as having more to prove than his predecessor. Williams appears to like hunger and probably suspects like I do that Vásquez has the capabilities of what would nromally be thought of as #3 starter.
They even upgraded at utilityman, getting the more versatile Mackowiak to replace Blum. To me it's not clear that the new guy is intrinsically a better ballplayer than Blum, while they both seem to be primarily third sackers by nature, Mackowiak has a better set of skills to back up the outfield and is a little less scary in middle infield. If they hadn't made the other moves, I wouldn't think it mattered. Normally a utilityman upgrade would be a piece of leger-de-main by a team trying to pretend it was making moves when it wasn't, but in this case, given the way manager Ozzie Guillen uses his bench, it's a real piece of the puzzle.
Further, the Sox are putting two inexperienced young players into key pieces of their plans, one pitcher and a center fielder. The pitcher will get the classic ease-in through long relief, pretty much continuing what he did last year, and the center fielder will get instant trail under pressure. Regardless, they will be hawk-eyed by management, because that's what this team's management does: they measure every day and monitor results every day.
That makes change easier to execute as well as more likely to succeed.
If only non-baseball institutions were as relentlessly capable as the White Sox, monitoring closely and making changes before incumbent processes and tendencies become become problems.
Most American businesses got used to cheap energy and incorporated expected costs into their forward-looking plans. More dangerous, energy-intensive businesses, like airlines and auto manufacturing, weren't much different. Several airlines including Southwest realized that Middle East wars would cause the price of fuel to go up and that it would find a new equilibrium that was markedly higher for the foreseeable future, so they paid out money to lock in prices before they jumped. Before it became a problem that hammered their potential. Cheap fuel was the Frank Thomas of the airlines' lineup...a great part of their success for a while, but something that, as it turned out, should be in the middle of their line-up any more.
And automakers, who could have tweaked product mix back in 2002 when the policies that would cause the price hikes became obvious, chose to stick with their past-success lineup for the mass market, lard-ass trucks and sports utility vehicles that consume gas like Mr. Creosote after smoking reefer, delusional dream products for delusional suburbanites pretending they're real ranchers or construction workers who need such equipment for their real work.
Change doesn't mean throwing away everything that made you successful -- it's not a binary all/none. It's not easy to knwo exactly what to do because Change doesn't offer an AAA Triptych to perfection. But change is inevitable and successful adaptation is more likely for those who diligently measure and observe in their present and act on their observations.
I've said it before: Whatever doesn't make you stronger kills you.
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