Lessons from Sports on challenging the expected.

By Luke Sklar and Amber Hudson

Have you seen Moneyball yet?  Go see it.  Here’s the 10 second summary from iMDB: 

The (true) story of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane’s successful attempt to put together a baseball club on a budget by employing computer-generated analysis to draft his players. 

Baseball?  Statistics? I like sports AND I’m a researcher, and even I’m having trouble stifling my yawns.  But really, it’s an excellent movie, deserving of its Oscar nomination.  

Okay, so getting to my point.  In the movie are a bunch of old-fart, crotchety baseball men.  They’d been in the game for decades, often starting as players and ending up in team management.  When Billy Beane comes to them with the idea of recruiting players based on stats and not hype / surface level appearances they collectively clutch at their chests.  They were all…we’ve been doing this for 25 years! You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about! Impossible, this will not work! They flat out refused to even mull over the slightly screwy idea.  I recently attended a market research conference (another yawn, sorry) where Anne Mulcahy, former CEO of Xerox, spoke about the industry.  When asked if she would ever hire someone who doesn’t believe in research she said yes.   She would hire a skeptic, but not a cynic.  Love.That. Cynics just whine and complain about how bad something is but won’t come up with the solution.  Skeptics will push for change, push for a better solution.

Just like in Moneyball. 

By the way, do you really think it was just Eli, the catch by Mario Manningham or their vaunted defense that lead the Giants to the Super Bowl win on Sunday? Hell no. It was their numbers person, Neil Hornsby that crunched the scenarios to tear apart the flawed Patriots secondary. 

So, to the lessons:  

  • We’ve all heard the saying it’s a mix of art and science:  to be successful you need purpose, passion and judgment. But intuition will only take you so far; you need data to help make informed decisions, to raise your odds of success.   
  • Be skeptical and challenge the expected.  Or if that’s not in your DNA, hire the skeptics and give their ideas a chance. 
  • Have the courage to fail.  (check out a great blog our colleague Manoj about succeeding through failure) 
  • And at the end of the day….No guts. No glory.