What Baseball Taught Me About Business

What Baseball Taught Me About Business
Photo Credit: Werner Kunz

Most of you think it’s boring and that it moves too slow.

I think it’s the perfect game. And in the 18 or so years that I played baseball (competitively) I learned a helluva lot.

About the game. About people. About life. And surprisingly, about business.

Many of you have watched the film “Moneyball” based on Michael Lewis’ excellent 2003 book of the same name. Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta (Peter Brand is a fictional character) leveraged Bill James’ sabremetric approach, which scientifically analyzes and studies baseball, often through the use of statistical data, to build a competitive baseball team on a budget.

I loved the book and thoroughly enjoyed the film. Probably because I thrive on challenging the status quo and asking the tough questions.

In 2008 I urged people to throw their data out the window.

Clearly, I was very green (still in graduate school) and didn’t have a damn clue what I was talking about.

But here’s the other side of the coin…

Billy Beane hasn’t been able to re-create the recipe in Oakland (albeit he’s still trying to win an unfair game) and Paul DePodesta went from a 31-year old prodigy to a fired general manager in 2 years time.

Here’s the thing about baseball. Sometimes the data tells the whole story. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it tells the wrong story. A lot of times it tells what you want it to.

Guys that have played the game or guys that have spent years watching the game can see things the stats often miss.

A left fielder might have a slow 60 yd dash, but get excellent jumps on balls hit off the bat.

A pitcher might have terrible command, but throw hard and downhill from a long, durable frame. A tweak in his mechanics could make him a superstar.

The point is that the best teams are typically made with money a combination of pages upon pages of reliable data AND experienced scouts.

The same is true of business.

If you wait for all the data to support every decision you make then you’re inevitably going to fall behind your competitors. But if you take knee-jerk chances, based solely on previous experience and intuition, chances are you’re likely to falter as well.

Which way do you lean? Seat of the pants or stat rat?


If you enjoyed this post please consider subscribing to receive future updates or connecting with me via Twitter or LinkedIn