What’s The Problem?

Recently, I took some time out and watched the movie Moneyball.  For those of you don’t know the story, it’s predicated on the thesis that a player’s ability to get on base is far more valuable then their ability to hit home runs.  Accordingly, for every player that gets on base, it’s guaranteed that the 4th player is equal to a point (e.g. players on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd – in order for the 4th player to get on base, the player on 3rd base has to come in and score a point and the other two players rotate to the next base thereby vacating 1st base for the 4th player.  The process repeats and points get accumulated).

Interestingly enough, the movie also teaches a very valuable lesson.  There is a scene where the head coach of the Oakland A’s gather’s his executive team to talk about their plans and challenges going into upcoming season (akin to a company CEO hosting their annual planning meeting for the forthcoming year).  In the meeting, every executive stands behind the fact that they need to find a replacement for their recently departed “star player” who left the A’s due to a higher salary from a larger, competing baseball team (akin to management in that very same planning meeting explaining what they believe it will take for them to be successful next year). Furthermore, without a comparable “star player”, they believed they didn’t stand a chance to be even remotely successful.  Throughout the scene, the coach kept saying, “That’s not the problem… What’s the problem?”  Every time a member of his team would provide their perspective, he repeated, “That’s not the problem… What’s the problem?”  Needless to say, his team (management) became frustrated when they believed he (CEO) didn’t understand that they were right and he was wrong.

Finally, after some time he explained his behavior.  “First”, he said, “You’re focusing on the wrong problem!  The reason why the previous star player left was because we couldn’t afford him and what you are telling me now is that we need to go and build a new team with another star player we can’t afford?”  His executive team, despite looking confused, continued to listen to what the coach had to say.  “The real problem is that we are a much smaller ball club with limited resources; therefore, we have to build a team of good players that we can work with.”  For obvious reasons, his team didn’t see things his way and were very vocal about it.  In the end, as with most executive teams, they understood the executive order and proceeded to work with the coach – despite ample resistance.

Fast forward – they build a team (based upon the above thesis) and end up winning the championship!  And, the best part of this story is that it’s actually true.

So – what’s the moral of this story?

First, before you try to solve a problem, you need to make sure you understand what the real problem is.  Only then can you start to solve the “real” problem.  In this specific case, the executive team was focused on the departure of the star player as their greatest constraint.  When, in actuality, the greater constraint was their limited resources, which when eventually realized, forced the departure of the star player (and any other subsequent star players the exec team would have acquired with current mental models – explained below).

Second, we operate with mental models (as stated above when the executive team didn’t see things the coach’s way based upon their own experiences).  Mental models are an explanation of someone’s thought process about how something works in the real world.  It is a representation of the surrounding world, the relationships between its various parts and a person’s intuitive perception about his or her own acts and their consequences.  Our mental models help shape our behavior and define our approach to solving problems, carrying out tasks, and they have been developed through years of experience.  Unfortunately, these models have the ability to limit our thinking to our current paradigms, therefore it becomes much harder to “think outside the box”.

Finally, it takes effort to be mindful and more effort to be open-minded towards other possibilities.  It’s not something that can happen overnight and it requires constant effort.

What’s the lesson behind this story?

The next time when you find yourself in a situation where everyone is running in one direction, pause and reflect as to why you shouldn’t run in the opposite direction.

To your continued success…

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