Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Thinking Outside the Box

There is a good movie coming out soon starring Brad Pit called “Moneyball” that is about Billy Beane the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics. Being a small market team the Athletics could never compete with the richer baseball teams to buy the best players.  Beane had to come up with a different way to win without buying big salary baseball players.  He had to “think outside the box.”

As Wikipedia explained it,

“The central premise of Moneyball is that the collected wisdom of baseball insiders (including players, managers, coaches, scouts, and the front office) over the past century is subjective and often flawed. Statistics such as stolen bases, runs batted in, and batting average, typically used to gauge players, are relics of a 19th century view of the game and the statistics that were available at the time. The book argues that the Oakland A's' front office took advantage of more empirical gauges of player performance to field a team that could compete successfully against richer competitors in Major League Baseball.

Rigorous statistical analysis had demonstrated that on-base percentage and slugging percentage are better indicators of offensive success, and the A's became convinced that these qualities were cheaper to obtain on the open market than more historically valued qualities such as speed and contact. These observations often flew in the face of conventional baseball wisdom and the beliefs of many baseball scouts and executives.

By re-evaluating the strategies that produce wins on the field, the 2002 Athletics, with approximately $41 million in salary, were competitive with larger market teams such as the New York Yankees, who spent over $125 million in payroll that same season. Because of the team's smaller revenues, Oakland is forced to find players undervalued by the market, and their system for finding value in undervalued players has proven itself thus far.”

So why don’t we “think outside the box?”  Probably the biggest factor is the fear of the uncertainty of change.  What if we make a mistake?  What if we fail? Do we punish those who try and fail?  The second most common reason is “groupthink.”  Who wants to “swim upstream?”  Groupthink is common in cohesive groups that have developed a common framework of operation.  “We have always done it that way so why change?” is commonly heard.  It is not surprising that the person in an organization that is most likely to think outside the box is someone new to an organization. Sometimes a child will come up with a new way to solve a problem.  My nephew showed this recently when his Mom had finished reading the story of two women coming to King Solomon and each claiming to be the mother.  Of course Solomon’s solution was to say he would cut the baby in two and give a half to each would work because the real mother would never agree to that solution.  My nephew’s solution was to suggest that the two women get married and raise the child together! 

One of my favorite examples of thinking outside the box is one that I have blogged on before—the example of a guy starting a barter with a red paper clip and bartering to a house. 

Another great example of thinking outside the box comes from the world of sport. In 1968, a high jumper named Dick Fosbury jumped higher over the bar than anyone had before. Before the Fosbury Flop, the way to jump a bar was to keep the body parallel to the bar. Fosbury set a world record by turning his back on the bar and flipping over it backwards. By thinking in exactly the opposite way he revolutionized the high jump.  Up to that time everyone did it one way because that is how it had always been done.

Finally I can relate how I have used thinking outside the box.  I have done a number of strategic planning sessions for different organizations. After using the traditional technique of starting with a SWOT analysis, developing a mission statement then identifying goals and objectives and finally action steps I noticed that everyone got excited in the action step process.  This was after I struggled to get people to involved in the earlier steps. What if I got that energy at the beginning of the process and worked backwards?  What if I started by asking everyone what their organization should be doing and how they should do it and then identified goals and objectives and finally developed the mission statement?  I tried it and it worked tremendously! I never received better evaluations.  After that it was the only way that I did the planning.

Think of something you do the same way every day or every week.  Now look at it from another angle or approach it from a different direction. Turn your approach upside down. You will get better at this exercise the more you do it.


bosoxbrent said...

Did you read the book "Moneyball" Duane? I didn't, but plan on going to see the movie on Monday night. I hear it's a pretty good movie. I'll let you know how it is.

Regarding the "swimming upstream" comment, as a Fed, I believe that the Gov should encourage swimming upstream more. Unfortunately, very few, if any Fed agencies actually encourage a work environment where people don't fear failure. In fact, "failure is not an option" is pretty much the way things are run in DC. I wish this would change, but I'm not too optimistic it will any time soon due to the "old timers" who fear any sort of change in the Fed workplace. Maybe I'll get lucky and the Feds will roll out a decent early retirement program and some of those who fear change will head off to the pasture instead of stopping the progress needed to make America great again.

Great post!

hoco connect said...

I did read Moneyball and it is a good read. The book reminded me of the Freakonomic books about how what we commonly think turns out to be incorrect.

bosoxbrent said...

So my wife and I finally saw Moneyball on Friday night. Having never read the book, I didn't know what to expect, but being a huge baseball fan, I knew the background and history behind it.

In general I thought the movie was pretty good. I wouldn't go as far as some have in calling it a great baseball movie. It's no where close to being as epic as Field of Dreams, Eight Men Out, Bull Durham, or even Major League.

I think for the casual fans, as well as the over-the-top baseball fans, it was interesting and had it's funny parts. Luckily my wife is a baseball fan (not as big as I am), so she thought "it was good." For those who don't know or don't enjoy baseball, then this movie was probably down right boring. I wonder how many "non-baseball loving" wives or girlfriends went with their significant others to catch a glimpse of Brad Pitt and were completely bored out of their mind after about 20 minutes?