Moneyball is Innovationball

As in-flight entertainment luck would have it, I’ve now seen the film Moneyball twice within a week. On the surface Moneyball is a true-story film about baseball — but it’s really an innovation story.

I enjoyed the film but nothing about it struck me as profoundly good in terms of story, or character development. I always like the charming Brad Pitt, and he’s good here in a tailor-made part as Oakland Athletic’s General Manager Billy Beane. He keeps you interested, but this doesn’t feel like an Oscar worthy role. Same with Jonah Hill as the nerdy statistician and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the disgruntled coach — good work — and not notably so. We don’t quite see enough about what motivates these guys. There is no romance, other than a love for baseball, no significant female roles, no special effects. So, I enjoyed the film and would recommend it, but not for its Hollywood portrayal of major league baseball.

I’d score Moneyball a double as an entertainment film, and a grand slam homer as an innovation film.

Moneyball is actually Innovationball. What it’s about is the reinvention of how professional baseball teams are managed. Intl. readers, don’t let baseball throw you, watch it for the process.

The entire innovation process is illustrated. First, the dreaded status quo, as represented by the coach and the scouting group. Next, there’s the motivating emergency that drives the need for change. Then, there’s the familiar “box” that everybody is trying to think out of, in the form of a very limited budget. The scouts and coach can’t see beyond how things have always been done. Billy Beane, the General Manager, is the innovative change agent or champion. He’s the leader who has to innovate or die. He finds an innovative solution in the use of new statistics (Sabermetrics aka “moneyball”) to help him find under-valued players. Yes, it’s a new methodology! He’s assisted by someone who is already thinking differently, and then the team of two face the turmoil and conflict that innovative change brings. After a lot of pain, heartache and resistance the pioneers succeed, and success is, typically, bittersweet, and not all about money after all. (I think I’m talking myself into this being an A film after all).

For me the film works best when we see the “dark side” of innovation — just how lonely, frustrating, scary, risky, and life changing it is. We see Billy Beane’s frustration when his coach won’t go along with the new program. We see the holes it tears in his personal life, and the huge risks. This is what people should know about innovators and their process. The film, thankfully, shows these dark moments realistically.

Innovators, pop up some corn, watch, learn, and enjoy.

    • Gregg
      More than a plot summary, nice analysis with a narrative lens and pulling out the truth about life, and life in business in this film.

      Innovation is not all champagne corks; often there’s no fizz at all.
      Thanks for the post,

      • Thanks Gerry. Poor Billy Beane never seemed to get the championship, nonetheless, he reinvented baseball. There’s a great moment in the film when his wonky assistant points out what winning really means, it’s just priceless; it’s the best moment for me.

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