Management by Baseball

I have 6 full sized bookcases in my house filled to the max with books (much to the dismay of Mrs. Businesspundit, who prefers to put *trinkets* on the shelves). There are also several half bookcases and some stacks of books on the floor. Business books take up about 25% of that space. I have one shelf that has the 20 or so business books that fall into my review and/or read again category, and one book that made that shelf last year was Jeff Angus‘ “Management by Baseball: A Pocket Reader.” I reviewed it last year, and one of the things I liked was that it was concise. Jeff told me he was expanding it into a longer book, and I admit I was skeptical that he could do so and keep up the high quality found in the shorter version. But he delivered.

The latest version breaks out many of the ideas from the original book into components and explains them more thoroughly. Jeff covers management from a unique viewpoint that spans both theory and practice, and the analogies with baseball provide an excellent way of reinforcing the material. You get to learn everything twice because you see it from two perspectives. That means you have a much better chance of understanding it and taking something positive away from this book. Here are some excerpts of things that I really enjoyed.

  • The biggest eureka moment for me was when I read this about economies of scale:

    Contemporary pundits with selective vision like to talk about them but they never tell you (or perhaps haven’t figured out yet) the drop-dead obvious truth: for every economy of scale, there are two or three diseconomies of scale. And here’s the collision at the plate. As they grow, the diseconomies’ symptoms grow at a rate significantly higher than the rate of staff count growth.

    I’ve written about how increased lawsuits and lower (on average) quality workers can result from size, but Jeff looks at this in terms of knowledge sharing in the modern organization. Something I had not thought about, but expect some blog posts once I have digested it.

  • Jeff points out that “the resume is not the person,” when he talks about hiring.
  • He discourages “management by wishful thinking.” (That one is just begging for a whole series of blog posts!)
  • He writes a lot about the importance of self-awareness as a trait of successful managers, and notes appropriately that few managers ever achieve good self awareness.
  • He also covers some very good ways to think about and promote organizational change.
  • My favorite thing about the book was a sub-theme than ran throughout which I can best sum up as “watch your track record.” Jeff gives example after example of companies (and baseball managers) ignoring data or failing to capture and act on important data. He advocates keeping track of what you do, what your employees do, and why it was done. This is an important point because without a history of previous decisions and the reasons for them, managers never learn from their mistakes. I’ve seen this firsthand. Actually, I have done this myself. That is why I started keeping track of my major decisions.

I know you are probably, like me, reluctant to buy a new business book. Too many of them follow the cookie cutter model of telling you what you want to hear instead of what will make you better. Too many of them lead to buyer’s remorse, and the bad ones even read to reader’s remorse. You’ve already found your cheese and crossed the chasm and tried 127 different styles of leadership. But this book is not a waste of your time. It is well worth the price and I think you will find yourself returning to it time and time again. Plus, it has the added bonus of being written in a way that makes it useful even if you just read a section or two. You don’t have to read the whole thing to get some benefit.

This book is best suited for people in managerial roles, or people that spend a lot of time working as part of larger team. Independent contractors and consultants will probably benefit less from it, unless of course your consulting is along these lines. The book presents a good mix of big picture thinking and tactics for ground level execution, so pick up Management by Baseball and you won’t be disappointed.

And make sure you are reading the Management by Baseball blog regularly. You have to keep those skills sharp.

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  • David G

    Caveat – the metaphor is useless to international (e.g. cricket-playing) readers like myself and much of the fairer sex.

    From my perspective, the last thing we need is more sporting metaphors in the workplace – they are way, way overused in the US workplace. What the execs who use them fail to recognize is that by using sports lingo in business conversations, they exclude many immigrants, international business partners & female colleagues. It’s always surprised me that the US workplace with its hyper-sensitivity to discrimination accepts this common prep-boy-practice. I’ve often heard woman in particular complain about this problem.

    I must also challenge the writers (lack of) understanding of economies of scale – the “diseconomies” are what I like to call “the problems we hope to have”. By definition, COGS increase when a business scales – some of those are “new” COGS – but also by definition, COGS grow at a rate slower than earnings; that can never be a bad thing no matter what new (minor) inefficiencies the business has to learn to cope with.

  • Rob

    That is a good point, as I don’t know how much I would get from “Management by Cricket.” But I think the diseconomies thing is a real issue. Knowledge sharing once you get beyond a few hundred employees becomes an immense challenge. This can lead to inefficiencies through duplication of effort, time spent spent searching for information and lost productivity due to increased bureaucracy, gossip, and office politics. The latter ones are may be minimized given the right corporate culture, but even good organizations have a difficult time sharing knowledge. Don’t you agree that Google’s speed has been one of the reasons it has competed so successfully against larger players? And if so, didn’t their smaller size contribute to their speedy development and decision making? It will be very interesting to see what happens as they grow.

  • David G

    I agree that you cannot have beuraucracy without scale (unfortunately) … but … you cannot have (maximum) productivity without it either. My thesis is that a lot more is achieved by maximizing productivity than eradicating beuraucracy (though both are important). Knowledge management is actually a discipline where productivity greatly improves with the size of the knowledge user base.

    In the limit, the most productive worker is the one that perfects one task and then repeats it all day every day. Not fun, but productive. That kind of workload only comes with scale. A “busy” sole proprieter is not necessarily productive. The smaller the company, the more “busy” each individual NEEDS to be because resources are scarce – but that doesn’t mean they’re financially productive. If I have vast resources at my disposal, I can get a lot done with relatively little “work” – so maybe I can goof off at the proverbial watercooler for the rest of the day.

    I don’t think goog is small. At 5680 employees, my guess is that they are world’s largest advertising agency – look how productive, flexible and responsive they are.

    Note – I think a distinction needs to be made between scaling vertically and scaling horizontally. Vertical scale (i.e. growth) is efficient – horizontal scale is not. Where I think we agree is that GOOG cannot enter a new business as productively as a startup that’s got no “process” baggage. It’s a conclusive argument that web portals are doomed in all but their core (original) business.