Lessons from Moneyball: ‘Adapt or Die’

When the temperature finally gets warm enough to shed jackets and put on sandals, when the neighborhood air is filled with food cooked on charcoal grills and people start to put their gardening gloves into the dirt, the mind also starts to go toward … baseball. Well, in my case, baseball movies.

I admit that I have far more fondness for the dramatic heart of the game rather than the game itself. I love drinking a cold beer in the hot sun occasionally to watch a game live, but the reality is that baseball is too slow of a game to captivate my short attention span for much more than an afternoon.

But, the baseball movie, with the advantage of quick-cut editing, inspires me and allows me to fall in love with America’s pastime over and over again.

One of my most recent favorite baseball movies is Moneyball. Although this movie has baseball at its heart, one could argue that the movie isn’t really about baseball, but about leading an organization through change – major change.

Based on a true story of how General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) reinvented the Oakland Athletics with very little money and a very new, untested theory about scouting players and using talent.

The movie begins with Beane hiring unknown administrator Pete Brand (Jonah Hill) as his assistant general manager. Brand teaches Beane how to use statistics to assemble not necessarily the prettiest, most exciting team, but a team that can score runs on a very tight budget. No one in the old guard believes that this new way is a good idea. Most think that it is crazy.

In a heated conversation, one of the old-time scouts asks of Beane, “You’re discounting what scouts have done for 150 years, even yourself?” Beane replies simply, “Adapt or Die.”

The adaptation isn’t a pretty site. Beane and Brand learn some hard lessons along the way. Beane struggles to get his own team manager on board and has to admit that perhaps keeping this new strategy to himself wasn’t the best idea: “I should have brought you in the conversation from the beginning, I take full responsibility for that,” he says.

Beane also has to let go of his long-time strategy of keeping a professional distance from players so that he can cut or trade them at a moment’s notice. He begins to work with them, share this new idea and strategy that requires them to buy into a way of playing baseball that’s never been done before.

Even with the ups and downs and adaptations along the way, Beane keeps his focus on the new vision: “The only question is whether or not you believe in this thing,” he says in a pivotal conversation with Brand.

This is a lesson all of us in the church could learn. We face a cultural landscape that demands that we ‘adapt or die.’ Adaptation isn’t fun or easy. It requires that we change the ways we do things – even change the ways thought to be effective for centuries. It requires that we build relationships with unlikely people in unlikely places. It requires that we learn new skills and employ new techniques to what we’ve been doing for a long time. It requires that we admit when we are wrong and make the changes necessary to make the vision a reality – even when those changes are difficult and unpleasant.

What are the biggest adaptations you’ve had to make as you’ve lead your church through change? What are some of the mistakes you’ve made and how have you learned from them?

Nicole Havelka, Associate Conference Minister

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