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The first guy through the wall

John Henry, slouched comfortably in his chair with the air of a man sure of his position, fixes a tired Billy Beane in the eye.  The Oakland Athletic’s recent defeat in the play-offs hangs heavy around Beane’s neck, made heavier still by the steady stream of Baseball-voices queuing up to discredit his methods on the basis of the season’s final defeat.

Shifting in his chair, Henry holds Beane’s eye as he steadily reels off the statistics regarding the A’s extraordinary season – the players lost, the games won, how little each win cost, that streak – imploring Beane to block out the noise and to understand, to appreciate and to acknowledge his own achievement.  He empathises with the wonderful line:

“I know you’re taking it in the teeth out there, but the first guy through the wall always gets bloodied.  Always.”

(watch the full scene here).

Innovation, no matter how successful, logical or needed will always meet with stiff opposition from those accustomed to a certain way of doing things.  Such criticism can, and often does, confound objective evidence as if to suggest that, for some incumbents, worse is better than different.  

So here’s the rub – if you want to do something differently, you have to be ‘all in’.  You have to be prepared for opposition and be ready to hold your nerve if things don’t go your way.  

It is obviously true that not all innovations work, but you will only know that for sure once any new approach has been given sufficient time to succeed.  One bad decision or a run of bad luck does not necessarily mean that the whole approach is broken but it is often incentive enough for a u-turn regardless.  In being ready to avoid such a reversal, you have to ‘see it through, for better or worse’.

Ultimately, the incentive to take such risks is clear – if you don’t, someone else will.   As Henry says to Beane in the denouement of his speech at Fenway Park:

“Anybody who is not tearing down their team and rebuilding it, using your model?  They’re dinosaurs.  They’ll be sitting on their ass on the sofa in October watching the Boston Red Sox win the World Series”.

Even in football – where the term ‘Moneyball’ has been distorted – if you fail to keep up, you’ll get left behind.


About Ben Marlow

Ben Marlow has created 38 entries.