Saturday, August 08, 2009

The Oakland As' Design to Win
Even When You Lose  

Baseball is the perfect test lab for measuring the relative merits of competitive strategies, so the lessons I'm about to share (generously coughed up by Oakland A's manager Bob Geren (who was once traded for Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers).

But before the lessons, and because I can hear that whinger in the back of the room getting ready to complain that business and war are a lot more competitive, let me reiterate why this is Truth.

For one thing, competition in Baseball is a lot more fierce than the endeavor you're in because success is zero-sum. For every win there has to be a loss -- none of that rising tide lifts all moats stuff. That's not true in business or in War. The second unarguable reason is that in baseball, you have to win right now, and you have to do without seriously affecting your chances of winning tomorrow. It's a long haul, and you can't just do what most publicly-traded corporations do (or the Governor and legislature of California do) and slide gains or losses between fiscal quarters to make things look good. The daily table of standings in the paper prevent any corporate-like attempt to fog the truth. Finally, winning is inevitably measured on a balanced scorecard. You need to win in the measurable ways (game wins, attendance), but just as much in the immeasurable ways (development of young players, resting of old ones, level of "good will", intensity of interest of current fans and kids who could be paying fans in a decade). Sandy Alderson, the brains behind the gathering of brain power that built the A's when they were a persistently excellent franchise, is as successful a formulator of scorecard balancing as you can find anywhere in North American management (a lot on that in an earlier entry). Baseball's just better at all these competitive challenges than is the norm for "good" in any other endeavor.

In sum, you have to win today and tomorrow, in measurable and in immeasurable ways in a zero-sum system where every win guarantees a loss in the system. And I promise you that in your endeavor, you have it easier than that.

BOB GEREN'S WISDOM The Oakland Athletics are having a tough season on the winning-today measure. Both the batters they acquired in the off-season to boost the immediate value of a line-up filled with young, unproven players were disappointments relative to what the team had hoped for. Those two are now gone and one, Matt Holliday was the most productive hitter they had this year. They're in last place by a long dangle as of today...

TeamW L Pct GBHomeRoad West Last 10
Los Angeles 65 43 .602 -33 - 2132 - 22 15 - 18 7 - 3
Texas 61 48 .560 4.537 - 2124 - 27 23 - 13 5 - 5
Seattle 57 52 .523 8.528 - 2229 - 30 17 - 18 6 - 4
Oakland 48 61 .440 17.526 - 2822 - 33 12 - 18 6 - 4
...and only two teams in the league have weaker won-loss records.

And yet, A's manager Bob Geren makes it clear, the staff will never cease pursuing the highest value they can get out of every single moment.

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle's Steve Kroner:

Before Thursday's 6-4 loss to the Rangers, a team fighting for a playoff spot, Bob Geren was asked if, at this time of the year, he manages any differently whether the opponent is in the race or not.

"Not at all. No way," he said.

"You try to beat everybody everyday. I can't even comprehend managing a different style against one team or another. It's all about winning, if you're in first place or whatever place you're in.

"You want to win every inning. You want to win every game. You want to win every series. Who we're playing is irrelevant."

And that's an essence of Baseball you need in your own management. Geren is putting a lot of rookies on the field, players who at this moment are not as good as their opponents. He doesn't give up; he Like Geren, you try to bring your best game every single day, every hour. And if you can't, you build up the other areas of your scorecard. You win by relentlessly experimenting with young players' talents and in training and in never stopping observing the results of your experiments and then incorporating your analysis into action, and then seeing what happens and doing it all over again.

There's no resting in Baseball management, no slack-off. There shouldn't be in your line of work, either. To repeat Geren:

"You want to win every inning. You want to win every game. You want to win every series. Who we're playing is irrelevant."

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