The lessons and inspirations of sports and the sporting life have always had a deep hold on the business psyche.
Some of my favorites here include the joy of competition, the virtues of teamwork, and of reaching Peak Performance through overcoming adversity and then sharing our “Best Stuff” with the world.
And these days the “Hot Lesson” that sports has to offer business is the power of measurement and data – driven decision making.
Some of this is obviously not new. Sports like running, swimming, and lifting has always been fundamentally defined and accomplished via tracking data – by how fast we go, how much weight we lift – and then from these data points developing specific training and improvement plans.
What is new is how data has come to permeate and dominate the world of team sports – baseball, basketball, soccer, et al. – and how now the most successful teams are managed not by pep talks and gut but by and through data and metrics.
FIFA. Germany’s 2014 National Soccer Team found that one of the highest correlated data points with wins and losses was how much the players on the field ran and moved per minute of game time.
So they placed chips in all of the player’s shoes to measure and maximize this number. The German Team averaged so much more movement than any of their World Cup competitors that it ended up being equivalent to one half an extra player on the field. And to the country’s fourth World Cup.
The NBA. In professional basketball, the explosion of readily available digital video has allowed for detailed tracking of how every player in the league fares against every other player, on a play-by-play “Plus/Minus” basis.
Teams like the San Antonio Spurs that most effectively harvest and use this data are able to both identify under-valued players (critical in a Salary Cap league) and empower their coaching staffs with key insights as to the best game lineups and player substitution patterns.
Building on this long-term attention to detail and metrics, last year the Spurs became the winningest team in NBA history (to go along with their five league championships in 16 years).
Major League Baseball. Baseball, with its extended season and its fundamental “One-on-One Matchups” game structure has long been the most advanced team sport when it comes to metrics driving player values, roster composition, and in-game tactics and strategies.
While its most famous proponent – Billy Beane – is rightly lauded for making his Oakland A’s team a consistent contender in spite of having a player’s salary budget sometimes only one quarter that of big market competitors like the Yankees and the Dodgers, in recent years “Sabermetrics” has leaped to a whole new level of intricacy and sophistication.
Key competitive innovations run from metrics like Fielding Shifts on a pitch-by-pitch basis, lineup changes based on time of day (and even time zone!), and the statistical value of “good outs.”
Now, this is where some folks say “enough is enough” and that they long for baseball as it was played and managed in the good old days, by the Tommy Lasordas and Casey Stengels of the world.
Yes – a harkening back to a simple and more “human” time.
This is a noble, but naïve, sentiment.
Because being able to work with great people and on great teams and at great places, well all of that wonderful and simpler time stuff in this year 2015 of ours can only be had via leading and managing by data…
Because doing so gets us that one magical thing that in both sports and business makes everything else possible: