‘Tis the Season
As we enter Q4 and folks readjust their mental calendars to accommodate working on Fridays again, everywhere small businesses begin their evaluation of what they did right this year, what they need to do in this last quarter, and, most importantly, where they will be going in 2013s.
And as we all sit down to determine that next great strategy that will finally bring us to that point of relevancy, I suggest we turn our attention to the playoffs of Major League Baseball; not only for a much-needed distraction, but also for inspiration.
In case you weren’t aware, Billy Beane’s much belittled Oakland A’s performed a sort of “Moneyball” redux. They took control of the regular season, beating out the high spending, star-studded Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for first place in the AL West. They went toe-to-toe, all the way to game 5, with fiscal juggernaut, the Detroit Tigers, a team that went on to sweep poster boy of the overpaid, Alex Rodriguez, and his the New York Yankees.
And they did it with the second lowest payroll in the entire Major Leagues.
If you haven’t read “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” by Michael Lewis, you should. It is a parable for every small business, every entrepreneur, trying to cram their way into a marketplace overcrowded with economic giants. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest it become a 4th quarter seasonal staple, designed to remind us of where our minds and hearts should be focused during this time of year, like Dr. Seuss’s “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” or Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” does during Christmas.
It is a common misconception that “Moneyball” is a book about how Billy Beane discovered a magical statistic (On-Base Percentage or OBP) that was the secret to building a winning baseball team. It’s not. It is a book about competing in an arena where you are at a distinct disadvantage. It is about discovering what the most underrated commodity out there is and using it to your advantage before anyone else has the chance to realize what’s happened. It’s about zigging when everyone else is zagging.
Billy Beane did not invent OBP – the credit for that often goes, much debated, to stat guru Bill James. All he did was realize that he was in a position with nothing to lose and everything to gain by taking a chance on a non-traditional strategy towards winning ballgames. Most other General Managers at the time used Batting Average and Homeruns as a gauge for offensive value. The Oakland A’s staff started looking at OBP, which figured in walks as well as hits to a players offensive value. Using this metric, Billy Beane’s staff was able to assemble a team of low-cost players and piece together a championship caliber team.
This is what we all need to be doing. We need to ask ourselves “What is the hidden value?” We need to identify that underrated commodity. We need to take a risk on that the already established companies are not willing to take a risk on because, frankly, they don’t need to. We need to do this while we are small enough to take these chances and really make a statement with them.
The problem is, of course, once you do make that statement, once you raze that path that no one else knew existed, that path soon becomes a toll road and all traffic begins to merge.
The Oakland A’s success in the early aughts brought to light the value of OBP, and soon the players that possessed these skill became as overpriced at the sluggers of the nineties were and the A’s could once again no longer afford to compete.
Yet, there they were: play-off contenders despite all talking head predictions and stat-geek evaluations.
And how did they do it? Great pitching, defense, and an offense comprised of cheap players that don’t get on base a lot but hit a ton of homeruns: virtually the opposite strategy to the one they changed the face of baseball with only a decade earlier.
When they zigged, everyone else zigged. Then they zagged.
Did they win the World Series? Nope. Only one team can do that, and it has as much to do with luck as anything else. But they were there. They had the chance.
They were relevant. Which is all any of us can really ask for.