What Baseball Can Teach Us About Business

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Baseball – the only sport where the defense starts with the ball – is in full swing. There are only two seasons, said one ancient Hall of Famer – baseball season and waiting for baseball season.

If our lives are a search for meaning, where we use metaphors, similes, and stories to help find that meaning, then sports offers a useful connection to what it does and what we need to do, to be successful. Baseball is a business, a billion-dollar business to be sure, so it can help us to see how the work on the diamond and in the dugout echoes in our desire to succeed in business. Consider these nine (a number that shows up a lot in baseball) parallels from baseball as applied to the game of business: 

It’s all about The Team – Individual efforts are important, but only as they add to the success of the larger group. Being the best in your workgroup, team, department, or division should come second after the success of the enterprise. If you are a business founder, owner, partner, or significant stakeholder, what you do should support the team under you. If you’re an employee, what you do should support the leadership team above you.

Trying hard matters – It’s fun to watch minor league baseball because the players play hard, on every pitch, during every at-bat, and with every ground ball hit to the shortstop. They know they can’t mail it in for even one game, because they could find themselves demoted and sent to a lower-level team, benched, or cut. They don’t always succeed, but’s not for lack of effort. Effort in business is measured in small and large ways, beyond just financially, by what the business leaders see as they evaluate the work done by their employees.

If you want to promote to the next level, stand out in your position – Moving from the Rookie League, to A Ball, Double A, the AAA team, and then up to the Major Leagues (“getting to The Show” as the players call it; it’s also the name of their union publication) takes effort, better-than-average statistics, and even some luck. Every athlete who plays professionally is good; the ones who promote are great. Most managers and supervisors know who their best contributors are; they’re the ones they leave in charge when they go on vacation or to an out-of-town meeting. The traits in business to “be better” – showing up on time, doing the work you are assigned, meeting deadlines – are recognizable.

Statistics make a difference, especially at the end of the year – Numbers count in business and baseball. Sales revenue, acquiring new big-ticket clients and customers, cutting operating costs, selling more products at higher prices, hiring more people, are all measured, all the time. Scorekeeping – financially, by projects, and in ways that are visible to all employees – exists to know who is winning the game of business.

Errors can hurt – Mistakes have consequences. Missing a deadline for a proposal that the team has worked on for several months, not getting product information to a prospective client in time, or not hiring a superstar who has just left your competitor, prevents your success. One error can start a downward spiral that affects the morale, confidence, and future success of the team. Quality matters.

Utility players and specialists can help when it counts – Not every player can play every position and some can succeed playing three or four. The complexity of business today demands specialization. A specific salesperson, who knows how to close a certain type of client business, is invaluable. A technically-trained employee, who can solve multiple software issues across several platforms, can save the day. There are lots of benefits to having a well-staffed team.

Good teams have good coaches – Consider that by the time a major league baseball reaches the big leagues, he has been taught by dozens of coaches and veteran players. No team succeeds at the highest levels without skilled leaders who can teach the best possible best practices. Somebody has to be in charge.

One seemingly small event leads to a win or a loss – Timing in sports and business is everything. The best companies also seem to be perceived as “the luckiest” by outsiders, because it looks like Fortune always favors them. It’s less about luck and more about not making mistakes, overcoming problems, being in the right place, and seeing how interconnected things really are.

Hard work and hustle never slumps – A “never quit” attitude serves ballplayers and business people alike. Effort, aimed in the right direction, achieves the agreed-upon goals. Employees who like to complain about hard work are surpassed by those who just go out and do it.


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