Posted by: Korry | October 13, 2011

The Moneyball Way

This past weekend, one of my best friends and I went to see Moneyball, the story of how Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane used in-depth statistical analysis to rebuild his team into one of the winning-est teams in baseball with one of the smallest payrolls. Now you’re probably thinking, “Statistical analysis? Yawn! Can there be a more boring movie topic?”

And if you are, you’re not seeing the movie for what it really is: a three-step instruction manual for success!

I believe what made Billy Beane a success is the same thing that made the airlines so successful at what they do (see here) and it’s also the same thing that can help to make your personal or professional life a success, too!

What’s the secret? First, ask the right questions. Second, measure what matters. And third, act on facts.

Billy Beane, thanks to his sidekick Paul DePodesta (portrayed in the film as fictitious “Peter Brand”) asked what really won baseball games, and they figured out that you don’t need star players, you need runs. Then they looked at hundreds of players in the major and minor leagues and measured who was best at getting on base and, ultimately, scoring runs. With facts in hand, they acted by making tough personnel decisions that weren’t always popular but proved successful.

The airlines do the same thing. At my company, every single airplane is equipped with a device that measures and records everything from how many degrees a pilot moves the control wheel left, right, up and down to minute engine performance indications. They measure airspeeds and altitudes and sink rates and power settings. They measure taxi speeds and brake usage and dozens upon dozens of other metrics. You could think of this equipment as the company’s own “black boxes”…on steroids. Hello big brother, right?

Then, every few weeks, the reams of data are downloaded onto central computers and analyzed collectively with all the other airplanes in the fleet. From this giant data set, the company then asks the right questions. For instance, they don’t ask if we’ve had an accident lately; they ask if the pilots are flying the planes in ways that will prevent accidents from ever happening. And, they don’t ask if we’ve had any maintenance issues with our engines lately; they ask if there are any engines that are showing nearly imperceptible, advanced signs of potential problems in the future.

After asking the right questions, they sort the data to measure what matters. They look for trends. They identify points for improvement. And they use the hard facts and data to make decisions. For example, they use the data to modify yearly recurrent training for pilots to work on those areas identified as most in need of improvement. They use the data to determine whether an engine needs changed long in advance of its scheduled time due to abnormal engine indications. They use the data to set operational goals and then measure our success.  

They ask. They measure. They act…with confidence thanks to the data. And the results are undeniable.

This phenomenon is everywhere. Look at the ads Google shows you based on your search patterns. Look at how Netflix recommends movies to you (and people like you) based on how you rate other movies. Look at how politicians refine (poll test) their messages to get maximum resonance with their core voters, or how news media outlets craft headlines to gain maximum readership. (Feel manipulated yet?) All four of these are examples of asking the right questions, measuring what matters, and acting on facts to improve effectiveness.  

Does this work at home? I believe it does. I’m obsessive about tracking every dollar my wife and I spend on Quicken to help me determine if we’re staying within our budget and meeting our financial goals. Measuring our spending helps us to identify what changes we need to make moving forward. This same concept also applies to time management, academic performance for kids, and a host of other areas of our lives. The great thing is that there are tons of apps and programs out there to help us master these principles.

Sure, analytics may not seem exciting, but it consistently proves its worth again and again. If it worked for the Oakland A’s and if it worked for the airlines, then there’s no doubt in my mind that asking the right questions, measuring what matters and acting on facts will work for you, too!

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Responses

  1. […] Feedback on results is continuously available. These are the metrics that allow you to track your progress. This can include specific “score keeping” such […]

  2. […] require additional practice and emphasis. If you remember from a while back, I wrote in The Moneyball Way about how the company uses sophisticated onboard computers to gather data about how pilots […]

  3. […] pilot training, we use disciplined practice to focus on the areas my company’s data analysis identify as improvable. We also focus on those tasks we need to do well but are rarely called upon […]

  4. […] becomes managing the team and knowing your role in the team. What’s the goal? What are the metrics? What are the waypoints the team must pass to stay on course towards meeting the goal? Who is […]


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