retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Sometimes the most telling business news comes outside the business section of the news. Try the comics or sports section for instance.

This past Sunday, Scott Adams’ endlessly fabulous Dilbert cartoon was must reading for any business. In the strip, Dilbert tells his boss that a study of their company has identified their key areas of excellence. Of course, this being Dilbert’s world, you know these will be sarcastic answers.

The fictitious company excels at automating tasks they shouldn’t be doing, clinging endlessly to the status quo, covering up financial problems and only hearing what they want.

Here’s the sad news: many of you may find those same flaws inside your companies, yet your world isn’t a comic strip. It’s for real and every one of those shortcomings could be undermining your entire company’s ability to compete. Ask yourself if you do things that really no one needs; if you cling to the status quo; and if you hear only what you like. If the answer is yes to any of those you have a problem.

Then consider a lesson of shocking success to remind you that there is always a new way to win. As Major League Baseball pauses for its annual All-Star game it is instructive to look at the standings - where we find the Oakland A’s in possession of the best record in the entire league so far this year.

Even non-baseball fans know about the A’s, thanks to both the book and movie Moneyball, which highlighted how the low-budget team found a way to win by re-examining the time-honored statistical wisdom of the game.

But here’s the thing: Moneyball was written about the 2002 baseball season. Since then, every team in baseball jumped on the new-age statistical bandwagon and negated the A’s advantage. From 2004 to 2012 the A’s only made the playoffs once.

Yet today, the A’s are still a low-budget team and back in first place. So how are they doing it?

As many recent articles make clear, Billy Beane, the A’s general manager and the hero of the movie, keeps adapting even after being portrayed by Brad Pitt in a movie.

Sure, he still relies on statistical analyses, but Beane knows everyone is doing that now. To keep winning, he’s gotten creative with trades and by rescuing players given up by others.

Most interestingly, he tries to find players who understand the limits of their skills and asks for and expects nothing more than their abilities. That way the player succeeds at what they can do and the team reaps the maximum benefit. In baseball terms, that means the A’s platoon a large number of players - in essence sharing jobs to favor each individual’s skills. (New York magazine recently had an excellent piece about the 2014 A's, which you can read here.)

In many ways, the A’s seem the polar opposite of Dilbert’s company, by constantly shattering the status quo and forcing themselves to deal with the unvarnished truth of their financial limitations.

The question you need to ask yourself if which company you’d want yours to be more like: Dilbert’s or Beane’s? The answer may be so obvious, except in many cases, it isn’t.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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