Each year, I get the privilege of going out to Phoenix, AZ to see the Oakland As during spring training. In fact, I’m on the flight back from Arizona as I write this. My wife is on the As’ staff, and luckily, I get to tag along. While she’s busy working, I kick back, catch up on my reading, and work under the Arizona sun.
On a great day, I also get to watch a game. And on a really great day, I get to hear stories from the As’ world-class management team, which includes Billy Beane (featured in “Moneyball”), David Forst, and Bob Melvin.
This is Major League Baseball at its finest. The As embody grit, spirit, and tenacity. They define what it means to never give up. I always walk away from spring training inspired by the sights of great teamwork, both on and off the field. Suffice it to say I’ve learned a few things from watching the Oakland As up close and in person.
Lesson 1: Don’t be afraid to reinvent the game
We often look to the growth that other companies are having with a particular product or marketing strategy, and we consider replicating it. This is a trap. Copying another company’s strategy rarely results in sustained success.
There’s a scene in Moneyball where Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, delivers a message to a room full of old-school scouts who were following a standard playbook to recruit new players. He said to them “If we try to play like the Yankees in here, we will lose to the Yankees out there.” The As couldn’t compete by paying big salaries. So they built a powerhouse team in the early 2000s by finding underdog players and groomed them to become stars.
This commitment to being different has paid off for the As. Their team has reached the postseason nine times since 2000, better than all but five MLB teams over the same time period.
Lesson 2: Star players might come out of left field
When making a hiring decision, we often rely on factors such as a candidate’s academic background, prior title, and prior company. These can serve as important variables. However, what’s more important than pedigree is character, a track record of results, and potential.
You’ll often see the As shake things up. They’ll recruit a catcher to play first base, or an outfielder to play shortstop. They’ll even trade away an All-Star to recruit a player who they believe can help them win more games. What matters to the As is a player’s achievements, and their potential to make an outsized impact.
Lesson 3: You can lose a game and still win the series
It takes incredible patience to see a strategy come to life and deliver the results you’re after. But the best organizations build for the long-term, even at the expense of short-term gains. The key is to ensure your strategy is both enduring and adaptive in order to respond to a continuously changing competitive environment.
The As are often criticized for not delivering short-term results. But they stick with their strategy, knowing that it has paid off for them time and time again. For example, the As pretty much invented the use of statistical analysis to make recruiting and trade decisions. But other teams quickly followed and used the same approach. Thus, the As constantly introduce new tactics in order to keep their edge.
All of this reminds me of one of my all-time favorite quotes from Mike Cannon-Brookes, one of our co-CEOs. Recently, I heard him say “We need to have short-term urgency combined with long-term thinking and sustainability. This will set us apart from other companies that simply run hard, from quarter to quarter.”
Both professional sports teams and everyday businesses need results-oriented players to compete and win. But no single player matters unless they contribute to the success of the entire team. That’s the true definition of winning.
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