Moneyball: Business Lessons on Value Creation

Professor Shannon W. Anderson is an expert on the design and implementation of performance measurement and cost control systems. Her research spans the fields of management accounting and operations research. She has been using the “Moneyball” case in her MBA classes for several years. In this post, she offers an overview of how she applies it to business today.

Moneyball has become a metaphor for everything in business today: it touches heavily on concepts related to budgeting, data analytics and productivity. The movie is about how Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane revolutionized the process of scouting new baseball players on a budget by employing computer-generated analysis to sign new players and when best to put them in the line up. Brad Pitt was recently interviewed by NPR about making Moneyball and his role as Billy Beane. The interview provides snapshots of critical moments in the film that help put my points below in perspective.

Typically, we tend to think about budgets and constraints as the enemy of creativity. There is a sense that you need to think big thoughts, and not be constrained by an accountant looking over your shoulder. The Moneyball demonstrates that the hard budget constraints the A's faced were the cause of creativity—it forced Billy Beane and his managers to come up with new ways to get the most out of their dollar. 

Analyze This: Data, Data, Data

Too often people watch Moneyball and only come away with a sense of the power of data analysis, which is a prominent theme in business today. Data analytics are everywhere. New technology makes sophisticated data analytics and data mining possible, and it’s being used by so many industries now: healthcare, crime prevention, the education sector, social media, you name it.

The subtitle of Moneyball (the book, by Michael Lewis) is “The Art of Winning an Unfair Game,” which illustrates a key point for business leaders. The “unfair game” is that major league baseball teams play with different budgets and with different constraints. However, take note that Lewis used "art" not "science," which would be more expected given the heavy use of statistics and data analytics. There is an art of management that goes hand in hand with science and making data useful.

Innovative Productivity: Moving Beyond “The Way it’s Always Been Done”

Businesses today are focused on driving productivity. Using Moneyball, we can explore the concept of behavioral economics extensively. It also shows us how our behavioral biases, observational biases and decision-making limitations lead us to make systematically bad decisions.

Reviewing the history of baseball, scouts used a “5 tools” system to judge potential players. Ultimately, we see that those criteria became cognitive blinders because they were more of a tradition rather than an accurate way to predict success. Billy Beane’s system generated data that made possible a more dispassionate look at what predicted success in the industry.

On one hand, experience can be a wonderful thing as far as learning and becoming more efficient. But experience can also condition you to look at things as always having being done a particular way. Managers need to question if “the way it’s always been done” is the best way, and if not, how to break that frame.

Moneyball showed us how Billy Beane got more for his money because he learned what it  means to be productive in baseball, and then built models and tested them. The lesson learned: Knowing resources that are in place to work with, the question becomes how do we redesign processes to be able to be more productive.

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