I decided to review it because, as I read the book and watched the film, I found myself thinking about the broader business implications and whether its lessons were only applicable to baseball/sport or whether they had wider applications.
The real-life story is about how the manager of a mid-level baseball team – Billy Beane of Oakland Athletics
– achieves success in the mid-1990s, despite having limited financial resources.
His team consistently out-performs teams such as the New York Yankees
, even though it only has about a quarter of the wage budget. He achieves this by introducing a recruitment policy that challenges the traditional views of success.
By analysing statistics, which are backed up by a computer whizzkid, Beane discovers that the ability to hit the ball and get to first base are the main factors that determine success, even if other aspects of performance such as catching or running are below par. As a result, he brings in a group of low-cost hitters who can do little else.
The move shocks the baseball community – particularly the veteran talent scouts – who find their traditional ideas being challenged. But it impresses the top club owners who soon besiege Beane with offers to leave Oakland and join them instead.
For example, he receives and turns down an offer of a $12 million salary from the owner of Boston Red Sox
. But the club owners soon realise, in turn, that they can copy his approach and, over the next decade, most of them introduce a similar systems of analysis.
The story is a fascinating one and I can strongly recommend both the book and the film, but do the lessons apply to business more widely? It may be stretching things a bit but I think they do. For instance:
- How many organisations focus on the wrong KPIs because that is the way things have always been done?
- How many companies recruit people on subjective criteria such as personal appearance rather than their ability to get the job done?
- How many firms fail to exploit their quantitative data effectively and instead make decisions based on ‘gut feel’?
Another lesson also came later on in the story – that competitive advantage is rarely sustainable over the long-term. Beane’s team is now back among the also-rans as other teams have caught up and applied similar methods of analysis.
There is one more interesting postscript, however. Other sports, notably cricket, have copied the analytical methods that are now widely used in baseball. Cricket pundits reached the opposite conclusion though – that fielding was much more important than once thought.
But with football, the findings have been more mixed. Ironically, the owner of the Boston Red Sox, John Henry, took control of Liverpool Football Club
a couple of years ago and brought in a new ‘director of football’, believing that the same methods could be applied.
It may be early days, but the signs are not good. Which just goes to show that there is rarely a one-size-fits-all no matter what business you’re in.
- Our reviewer this time was Alan Warner, director at management training provider, MTP.
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