Meg Wheatley, author
Leadership and the New Science

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On a recent afternoon, we found ourselves with a couple of free hours and decided to feed our inner film buffs. We headed to a movie theater to watch “Moneyball,” starring Brad Pitt. It’s based on Michael Gene Lewis’s best-selling book with the same title and chronicles how the Oakland A’s general manager, Billy Beane, used unconventional methods to assemble a competitive team with minimal financial resources.

As a movie, we both gave it a thumbs up. But what we really got excited about was the lessons for organizations found in the storyline. As the film unfolded, we nudged each other and nodded with recognition at the tension created as change and innovation battled tradition (which always has the home field advantage).

Others have noticed the management lessons that can be distilled from “Moneyball.” Forbes touted the Moneyball hiring tips. A Fast Company article mentioned the importance of “straight talk” (or in our terms, authentic conversations) and the need for managers to quickly make changes when people are undermining results. A Harvard Business School article reviewed the art of analytics and management.

But what we noticed was Beane’s perseverance in charging ahead with his unorthodox strategies in the face of skepticism and scorn.

A New York Times article characterized Beane as an “innovative visionary in a field clogged with myopic traditionalists” who “boldly discarded conventional wisdom.” But baseball traditionalists scoffed at the renegade manager, and many accused him of arrogance and worse. In the movie, the baseball manager is frequently butting heads with people who advise him to abandon his crazy theories because “the system has worked this way for 150 years.” How many times have you heard “we’ve always done it this way” or “we already tried that” when people want to make changes at work?

In the end, the changes implemented by Beane strengthened the Oakland A’s team and lead to remarkable results, even though the film didn’t have the proverbial happy ending. (Spoiler alert: The A’s still didn’t make it to the World Series).

As so often happens with innovation, Beane’s techniques were soon introduced and adopted by other baseball teams, eliminating the stealth advantage he once enjoyed. And we can  draw some conclusions from that, too —  it is a lesson on the need for attending to an organization’s resiliency, flexibility and constant re-invention.


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