Applied Innovation Blog

Disruption + Baseball, Part 1

Baseball season started last week.  For those of you that are fans, welcome to the game that gave us some of the best and most memorable innovation analogies.  As Mayor Wilson is most interested in finding and cultivating breakthrough and disruption opportunities, I thought I would take the opening of the 2014 season to discuss disruption through a real-life and metaphorical example from the baseball diamond.

Have you seen "Moneyball" ?  Yes? No?  Doesn't matter...but if you haven't go see it...good movie.  Great example of watching disruption in action.  "Moneyball" (the movie), was based on "Moneyball" (the book) by Michael Lewis.  Lewis recounts the story of the Oakland A's as they tried to compete against teams with bigger budgets better players and a team that had no stars and thus lower revenues.  Spoiler Alert: Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill disrupt baseball.

Basically, down and out Brad Pitt comes across up and out Jonah Hill.  Brad Pitt is desperate for a competitive advantage.  His team sucks, he needs help, and a festively plump Jonah Hill comes along with a crazy idea to use witchcraft* to pick and form a baseball team.

(*witchcraft = mathematics and statistical analysis...basically picking players was a "gut feel" and Jonah Hill used math to prove things like "getting on base" led to more runs and thus more wins.)

Incredibly (yet unsurprisingly), this worked !  Brad Pitt changes baseball forever (because early adopters get the credit), is offered a dream job, and doesn't win a championship...but that wasn't really the point (and that is another post about being the first best).  The best part of the movie is that at the end as Brad Pitt is self-loathing an apparent loss (no championship), Jonah Hill shows him a comical video of a man that hits a homerun but literally falls on his face trying to get to first base and is completely unaware that he had just done something incredible.  This was a metaphor of victory in defeat...or defeat in victory.  Yeah Hollywood.

But Moneyball is a story of how a few people leveraging competitive advantage, plus something they have never done or never thought of changed an entire industry.  It makes for nice entertainment because we like to see underdogs do something cool.  It feeds into this ideal lone hero working against unstoppable odds to change the world.  The reality is that this is also what leads to a fundamental misunderstanding of the innovation process and what disruption actually is.  You don't do disruption.  Disruption happens to you.  Want to know what happens next, Kevin Costner and the no-hitter will tell us what this means.