Using Moneyball Principles to Discover the (Real) Problem

“With but few exceptions, it is always the underdog who wins through sheer willpower.

Johnny Weissmuller

  …you could probably be doing a better job, but you just haven’t cracked the code regarding how to make that happen.

The discussion was part of a broader session where we reviewed some of the elements of Michael Lewis’s book (and subsequent movie) Moneyball and how we could apply them to our business. (It’s no coincidence this discussion occurred during the beginning of baseball season.) Initially, we looked at how, as consultants, we could advise our clients to make better use of these principles. While this was fruitful, the conversation evolved into how we could apply these principles internally, to our own business. Turning the focus within is often a great way to get better at advising others outside.

One interesting thought about all of these Moneyball concepts… People often think it’s all about the numbers and analytics. Are there different metrics that would help us measure our progress or predict our future performance better than what we currently use? This is the type of question that most frequently emerges from these types of conversations. However, I’ve found it’s more about philosophy than math. Yes, the math might be how you end up measuring, tracking, and predicting things, but the Moneyball philosophy – or mindset – is where the advantage really lies.

For instance, the change in mindset all about framing “the problem” appropriately. It’s about thinking about the situation differently. It’s about throwing away the “it’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking and replacing it with “how should we be doing it?” thinking. It’s important to remember too, the “should” part depends heavily on your current circumstances and the resources that you may or may not have.

In the movie, there is a classic scene where the General Manager of the Oakland A’s baseball team, Billy Beane (portrayed by Brad Pitt), in a room with his scouts, is discussing how to approach fielding a team for the next year. The scouts’ opinions all relied on the way they’ve always done it. Beane quickly got very frustrated with their suggestions. He began challenging them by repeatedly asking, “What’s the problem?” As far as the scouts were concerned, “the problem” was replacing the players they lost with the money they had available. Beane eventually had to re-frame the problem to them. “The problem” was not one of replacing players, but rather more macro than that; “the problem”, according to Beane, was they were a small market team with very limited resources that was having to compete on the field with teams with much larger bankrolls at their disposal. Given that, the A’s needed to approach the game differently. They needed to find value in players that the teams with more money were overlooking. The point being: you need to take a step back, re-evaluate the situation, determine “the real problem” that you are facing and attack it.

For us, we found ourselves evaluating some of our internal processes and scrutinizing why we do the things we do. In several challenges we have been working to resolve, we discovered that by looking at the issue through a different lens – by pulling up a bit and re-framing the situation – we could see what we thought was the right solution was really just addressing a symptom of the problem itself. We had not been attacking “the real problem”. Even if our solution eliminated that particular symptom, “the real problem” underlying it all was still going to be there and still going to be negatively affecting our work. The exercise was very enlightening and has started us down some interesting new solution paths. (Sometimes it’s good to go through the same exercise you would typically ask your clients to go through!)
So, my challenge for you is this…
1- Think about an issue your company is facing…
2- How are you addressing it?
3- When you “solve” it, will the problem be fixed, or will you still have to deal with some underlying issue?
4- If “the problem” still exists, revisit what you consider to be the core problem… is it just a symptom of something broader?
5- Re-frame the situation and search for the real problem.
I’d love to hear examples of how this type of thinking might help you in your company. Please share in the comments or message me directly.

~ Marketing Workshop