Sunday, July 13, 2014

Book Review: Moneyball

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair GameMoneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Truly, I loved everything about this book: the pace, the visuals, the humor.  But it's the learning that is the key takeaway... the lesson for business leaders everywhere.  What we measure is important.  Picking the right indicators is important. Sometimes challenging the conventional wisdom in your field is necessary for survival. 

As Lewis tells it, challenging the status quo was the best available option for Billy Beane, who started his tenure as general manager of the down and out Oakland A's with a bit of a chip on his shoulder: he'd had unrealistically high expectations placed on him as a young player. So, instead of being seen as one of the rare talents who make it to the Big Leagues, he was seen as a disappointment to his potential.  (Don't you just hate it when that happens?)

That personal history is what made Beane the right guy to listen to a group of amateur baseball statisticians (the fantasy league fanatics) who had been saying for some time that major league scouts valued the wrong things in potential recruits.  He didn't necessarily follow the math himself, but he had a number cruncher he trusted and he was willing to take risks.  Perfect.  Next thing you know, the A's have won the World Series and everybody else is using Billy Beane's methods of evaluating players.  This guy moved his entire industry forward.  How many of us can say that?   

My favorite chapter is called "The Jeremy Brown Blue Plate Special." Never mind that Jeremy Brown is a real flesh-and-blood guy who might have feelings about being purchased for cheap.  He'd grown up believing that no matter his baseball accomplishments, he was the wrong body type to become a professional.  He was glad to be given his shot, with a GM who was ready to be patient, and organize the team according to the things that matter instead of the things that are normal.  Here's the business lesson of the chapter:

"The inability to envision a certain kind of person doing a certain kind of thing because you've never seen someone who looks like him do it before is not just a vice. It is a luxury. What begins as a failure of the imagination ends as a market inefficiency: when you rule out an entire class of people from doing a job simply by their appearance, you are less likely to find the best person for the job."

Right on!

Lewis's manner of writing is like the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down.  He wraps an important piece of business education in a fun and compelling narrative about baseball.  I admire his facility with language and his ability to keep so many moving parts relevant and interesting.  But most of all I admire his ability to influence.  My guess is that for-profit and non-profit leaders all across the country took another look at what they were measuring as success indicators after reading this book (or perhaps after seeing the movie, which I have not done.)  That's great writing!

My two-page summary is now posted and ready for download. Just click here.

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