Wednesday, January 4, 2023

On Nine Lessons Learned in Business - and in Life - From the Game of Baseball

I live in a baseball household. With a husband who played in college and a 7-year-old who wants nothing more than to be like his daddy, we spend much of our time watching or playing the game and most of our weekends at some tournament or another. I am by and by a baseball mom at heart. What many don't know about me is that I also minored in sports business management in college, so while my career hasn't necessarily moved in that direction, I also have an inherent love for the game. 

One of the things I love so much about baseball is the way so many of its lessons translate into business and life with relevancy and shared truth. Below are just nine personal takeaways from America's pastime that I've found to be true for success in all areas:

Each player is a unique resource, not an interchangeable part

One of my favorite things about baseball is that while it’s a team sport, each player has a unique role on the field. No two players are responsible for the same thing. Each player needs to be an expert in their respective role and simultaneously understand the expectations of those around him so that they can work efficiently. No player is more valuable than any other, no play is more valuable than any other, and each player has to trust that the others on the field will step up and play exceptionally when it’s their time to shine. They each have an accountability to not only themselves, but to one another to not allow errors to happen and perform at their peak every game, every play. 

Celebrate your grand slams, but remember that yesterday’s home runs won’t win today’s game. 

It’s important to take the time to stop and celebrate the amazing things we each accomplish, individually and as a team. But we have to remember that we can’t rest on one good day, or one good project, or one good assignment. The expectations rise, the stakes get higher, and we have to consistently be pursuing excellence in everything we do.

Win this pitch, then the next, and then do it again 

In any game, a pitcher could potentially be responsible for 100 or more pitches. It’s important that the focus and intent on pitch one is the same focus and intent on pitch 95, regardless of how many balls or strikes have been thrown. Each pitch matters, not one of them is a throw away.

Individuals can win games, but only teams can win championships

Some of the greatest players in baseball’s history never won a world series ring. Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa – these are names that people who aren’t even fans of baseball have heard, but their individual prowess couldn’t make a pennant happen. You can earn recognition as an individual, even win some victories, but to make it all the way you need a strong team standing beside you.

You can’t stay static – your competitors are adjusting, so you have to too

Hitters have natural sweet spots, and as pitchers watch and learn, they can learn what areas to avoid and where to aim. So, hitters have to be consistently adjusting. The same goes for team strategy - when other teams watch the layout of your field and learn how to react, you have to adjust accordingly to be proactive. In our world, we have to remember that the same strategy, the same approach, over and over again becomes background noise. So, while we should always leverage what we know works well, we also have to be constantly looking for innovative ways to move our initiatives forward and communicate to our people.

Analytics are critical – but only valuable if assessed and communicated clearly

Sports analytics get deeper and deeper and provide insight into what is working well on and off the field. Individually, each player on a roster has standing behind them a rolling list of numbers  -ERAs, RBIs, errors, BA, EQA, Hits, Runs, assists, Fielding Percentage, the list goes on and on. But unless a very smart person is looking at these numbers, providing critical analysis across a spectrum of factors and synthesizing the data in a way that makes sense and produces outcomes, its meaningless. Data is invaluable to baseball and to business, but it must be assessed and applied correctly to matter.

It’s imperative that you know the rules that govern your game

There are often times in baseball when the casual observer has to rely on the announcers to explain some of the more obscure rules of the game, or the rules that govern certain fields’ play. But it is the responsibility of the players and coaches to know those rules inside and out so they can both proactively adjust their play and react appropriately. In the same way, it’s critical that we know the rules that govern our game. Industry is ever-changing, so we have to be intentional about understanding where we stand as an organization, as a team, and in our roles.

Know when to be aggressive at the bases

Every team has a good base coach helping runners understand when they should hold at third and when they should make the dash for home. In the same way, it’s important that we recognize when it is prudent to be conservative in our strategy and when it makes the most sense to take risks and be aggressive. 

Shake off the strikeouts - .300 is exceptional

It’s been said that baseball is one of the failingest games in all of sports. If you go one for three consistently throughout your entire career, earning a .300 batting average, you’re in consideration for the hall of fame. In the same way, we can’t be afraid to strike out or make mistakes. Each of those mistakes is a learning opportunity and as long as we are consistently striving each time we’re at bat to be exceptional, as long as we are persistent in our pursuit of perfection, recognizing that we’ll never achieve it, we’ll end up on top.

So here's to all my fellow baseball mamas, getting their kids to practice, rubbing clay out of jerseys and cheering from the stands. I truly believe our kids are learning more than just a game, they're taking in life lessons that will help them in whatever future they choose to pursue. See you at the field!

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