#10 Entrepreneurial Lessons From Movie 'Moneyball'
Any unconventional idea, no matter how good it is, could face rejections initially
Moneyball is a sports movie based on Michael Lewis’s book: ‘Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game’. In this movie, Billy Beane, General Manager at Oakland Athletics baseball team, faced with a limited budget, assembled a competitive team of undervalued talent with the help of Peter Brand, a young Yale economics graduate harbouring radical ideas.
At the end, Oakland Athletics, the team that finished the previous season with the worst record in Major League Baseball, sets a new American League record by winning 20 consecutive games in 103 years’ history of American League baseball and that too with one of the lowest budgets in the league. This movie covers many important entrepreneurial lessons. A few of them are as follows:
Listening Opens up New Possibilities
Though oration is a more visible and talked about leadership quality, listening is also a very important leadership quality and sometimes ignored by many people. Billy Beane listened to Peter Brand, who had just started his professional career. Billy understood Peter’s point of view on baseball, misjudgment of players and mismanagement of teams. Billy found an unconventional way of looking at the game through Peter’s radical thought - People who run ball clubs, they think in terms of buying players.Your goal shouldn't be to buy players.Your goal should be to buy wins. And in order to buy wins, you need to buy runs.
To emphasize this point from a business perspective, I would like to share a quote from Richard Branson — Listen more than you talk. Nobody learned anything by hearing themselves speak.
Understand the Gap Between Perception & Reality
Oakland scouts had their own perceptions about various players. But, Peter shared a new perspective with Billy that people are overlooked for a variety of biased reasons and perceived flaws such as age, appearance, personality. He showed a realistic way to identify good players’ through mathematics rather than perceptions.
To emphasize this point from a business perspective, I would like to share a quote from Travis Kalanick — There is always a large gap between perception and reality and that gap is the innovators' playground, where the magic happens.
Seek Criticism to Understand Reality
Billy had been a Major League player before becoming General Manager. Scouts considered Billy a potential baseball superstar, who had skills to hit, run, field, throw and hit with power, and gave him a lucrative financial offer. Billy chose baseball over a full scholarship from Stanford University, but his career in the Major Leagues was disappointing. When asked by Billy, Peter admitted that he would not have drafted Billy until the ninth round instead of first round and Billy should have chosen college over baseball. This opinion of Peter about Billy was different from experienced scouts who identified Billy as a promising player.
To emphasize this point from a business perspective, I would like to share a quote from Elon Musk – Continuously seek criticism. A well thought out critique of what you are doing is as valuable as gold.
Peter worked on complexity part of analyzing players and wrote an algorithm to build year on year projection. It had all the intelligence needed to project players. This complex algorithm simplified things for Billy so that he could choose players based on one number and find value in players that nobody else can see.Rather than relying on the scouts' experience and intuition, Billy selected players based almost exclusively on their on-base percentage (OBP).
To emphasize this point from the business perspective, I would like to share a quote from Steve Jobs — Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.
Be Responsive to Change
Scout Grady Fuson aggressively confronted Billy Beane. He was unhappy because Billy was discounting Grady’s intuition and 29 years of experience and giving value to an unconventional methodology of a college graduate – Peter.Billy mentioned ‘Adapt or Die’ and at the end of the discussion, Grady was fired as he was not ready to adapt to the new approach required in the circumstances.
To emphasize this point from a business perspective, I would like to share a quote from John Chambers – If you don’t innovate fast, disrupt your industry, disrupt yourself, you will be left behind.
Be Ready for Rejections
Any unconventional idea, no matter how good it is, could face rejections initially. Oakland scouts were first dismissive and then hostile towards Peter Brand's non-traditional sabermetric approach to scouting players. Early in the season, the Athletics played poorly, leading critics to dismiss the new method as a failure.Additionally, Billy faced continuous resistance from Art Howe, Oakland Athletics manager.
To emphasize this point from a business perspective, I would like to share a quote from Jack Dorsey —You are not here to do what has already been done, don’t worry about rejection.
Focus on Winning the Last Game, Not Making Records
Though his team had 20 consecutive victories, Billy was concerned about winning the series, not just making records. Even after achieving the record of20 consecutive wins, Oakland Athletics couldn’t win the series.Records or awards are not proxy for continuous winning. There have been many instances when leaders win prestigious awards and later lose to the competition in the business world.
To emphasize this point from a business perspective, I would like to share a quote from Andrew Grove – Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.
Always be Ready to Learn & Improve
Billy learned new ways to select players from Peter at the same time Peter learned how to fire players from Billy. Players also took their game analysis feedback by Billy and Peter seriously and understood their development areas. Whenever required, Billy tried different ways to give his feedback for example, when players were celebrating after losing, he showed his anger and made them realize that’s not the right way to act after losing. To one of the senior players David Justice, Billy mentioned - I'm not paying you for the player you used to be. I'm paying you for the player you are right now.
To emphasize this point from a business perspective, I would like to share a quote from Indra Nooyi – If you want to improve the organization, you have to improve yourself and the organization gets pulled up with you.
Anything Worth Doing is Incredibly Hard
Without being asked for, Peter created an algorithm to evaluate players. When Billy asked Peter to evaluate 3 players, Peter did the evaluation of 51 players. With his patience, hard work and approach, Peter played an instrumental role is redefining approach towards an age old game.
To emphasize this point from a business perspective, I would like to share a quote from Larry Page –Always work on something uncomfortably exciting.
Innovate to beat Giants
Many times, start-ups are fearful of giants as they have more resources. But with radical innovations, start-ups can create winning business models to take over giants. Due to limited funds, Billy Bean was not able to get and hold good players. Rather than accepting the things as they were, he explored Peter’s innovative approach and made the impossible happen.
To emphasize this point from a business perspective, I would like to share a quote from Larry Ellison – If you do everything that everyone else does in business, you are going to lose. The only way to really be ahead is to be different.
This movie acts as a brilliant case study to showcase that if a leader wants he can look at obstacles in a completely different way and come up with unconventional solutions. Moreover, it shows how an open minded leader with limited budget valued the importance of technology (data analytics) to assemble a winning team of undervalued talent.
(Views expressed are author's personal and don't necessarily represent any company's opinions.)