With the baseball World Series concluding a couple of weeks ago, I realized that as entrepreneurs, we could learn something from parts of the sport. Many of us might have read the book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game or seen the film a few years ago. It’s about the Oakland Athletics baseball team and how its general manager, Billy Beane, took an analytical, evidence-based approach to assemble a competitive baseball team—despite Oakland being at a big financial disadvantage to go out and hire the best talent.
As entrepreneurs, we don’t need to have the most talent or money to compete against the major players. Tweet This Quote
In short, the main idea of Moneyball is that the conventional wisdom of baseball insiders over the past century was faulty and highly subjective. Statistics such as stolen bases, RBI’s, and batting average, may have been helpful in the 19th century, but not today. (For those unfamiliar with baseball jargon, this BBC post quickly explains the three stats above.)
To go against such old-school thinking, the underfunded Oakland A’s used new and creative analytical gauges of player performance to field a team that could both compete with and beat wealthier competitors. In 2002 the A’s did it, taking a meager $44 million dollar (in salaries) team to the playoffs in the same bracket as the super-rich $125 million New York Yankees.
Many business pundits have noted that as entrepreneurs, we’re the Oakland A’s—no money and not many big home run hitters or stars groomed from a young age to excel in the big leagues. But still, many of us are poised to compete with and beat the major players who have the money and what conventional wisdom has always called “talent.”
There are some things you can’t measure at all, but these intangibles are often the keys to success. Tweet This Quote
A recently published book by Lonnie Wheeler called Intangiball: The Subtle Things That Win Baseball Games, uncovers this idea of how success can happen without conventional talent and loads of money. While Moneyball said you have to measure the right things, this book says there are some things you can’t measure at all, but these “intangibles” are often the keys to winning. In fact, stressing out about all of the things we can measure to help us along the path to success is often not the most productive thing we can do to field a winning team.
A recent Forbes article explains it well:
So as entrepreneurs, what does this intangible motif look like for us? What does a mushy statement like “engaging the hearts and mind of teammates” look like in practice?
Many companies have mottos. Google’s is “Don’t be evil,” and Apple’s is “Think different.” At MANA Nutrition, ours is “We are not jerks.” This came from a company friend and mentor who warned us early on, “Smart people are not really that hard to find, but smart people who are not jerks are sometimes hard to come by. One jerk can ruin everything.”
Greatness and brilliance may elude us some days, but there’s never an excuse for being a jerk. Tweet This Quote
So part of the intangible effort with us is as simple as that. We all aspire to brilliance and greatness, but why don’t we start by not being jerks? That includes both to each other and to outsiders. And when we are jerks—because let’s face it, we all are sometimes—then admit it, apologize and move past it.
Finally, truly great teams—in sports or in the workplace—need a team player who can bring his or her peers together for a common cause. As Wheeler notes, it’s usually not the most talented person in the room, but the one who decides to set the tone and take the risk of being a leader. Being that person on the team is within all of our reach. Greatness and brilliance may elude us some days, but there’s never an excuse for being a jerk. It may not show up as the key metric to success, but it may be the intangible contribution that allows a team to move up from average to good to great.