Keep the Line Moving

In November 2014, I wrote a blog about the Kansas City Royals major league baseball team and its losing effort in the World Series. A year later I’m pleased to once again write about the Kansas City Royals and the World Series . . . but this time the outcome is different because the Royals won the Series in five games. There’s a real symmetry with the parallels between how the Royals won and how entrepreneurs can win.

The 2015 Kansas City Royals was not a team of superstars. They were not a team of power hitters swinging for the fences and hitting the ball out of the park. In fact, Kansas City only hit two home runs during the World Series, and one was inside-the-park. The Royals won for a combination of reasons. First, all of the players bought into the culture and the plan that was conceived during spring training to win the championship. The players were aggressive at the plate and simply aspired to hit the ball and put it in play. They were intentional about trying to make contact with the ball and send it through the gaps. Once a player was on base the mantra became “keep the line moving.” In other words, the key to producing runs was to generate singles, doubles, walks – whatever it took for the next player to get on base and advance runners across home plate.

Kansas City players and coaches spent considerable time doing research on their opponents. But it didn’t stop there. They also analyzed data on the umpires to understand how strike zones were being maintained. They watched how certain infielders threw the ball to first base; how quickly outfielders got the ball back into the infield and the tendencies of pitchers with their windup motions. The Royals used this information to decide when to stretch singles into doubles – or when Eric Hosmer decided to make a mad dash from third base to home on a ball hit to the third baseman in Game 5. This was a team that hustled. This was a team where it was obvious that all of the players were having fun and enjoyed playing the game. Probably the most amazing trait of the Kansas City Royals was their ability to come back from being behind in the later innings of a game and win. Seven times in the postseason they came from multiple runs behind to win, and outscored their opponents 55 – 11 after the sixth inning. Every player believed that no matter what the odds, they would win and they literally willed it so.

Each of our entrepreneurial endeavors would be well served to use the 2015 Royals as a model. Do we have superstars in our midst who require the feeding of big egos? Do they sulk or create drama when things don’t go their way? Are we focused on hitting the big time, or do we work hard to apply the basics and fundamentals that produce the singles (and sometimes a double) in our everyday business lives? Have we developed a winning culture within our organization that values the contribution of every team member? Christian Colón, a Royals backup infielder, hadn’t played a single game in the post season. And yet he was asked to bat in the 12th inning of the final Game 5 against the Mets. Down in the count with two strikes he proceeded to hit the go-ahead run that led to the championship. Manager Ned Yost trusted Colón to bat as a backup just as he trusted every starting player on the team.

Are we sticklers for diving in and digging up data, then translating it into the myriad of ways that will help us win? Is our team all about hustle and having fun? Do our team members have resilience and a comeback mindset? When the chips are down do they give up or do they truly believe that they can cobble together whatever it takes to put a W on the scoreboard? Sports often offer a plethora of wonderful metaphors that correlate with the business world. But the winning ways of the 2015 Kansas City Royals may be the ultimate example in this respect.

“Keep the line moving” is both an aspirational and an inspirational business concept. It certainly worked for the Royals and is a winning notion for us as entrepreneurs.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Royals World Series

Worldly Serious Lessons

Indulge me with this blog posting. The 2014 World Series has just concluded and was one of the most exciting I’ve ever seen. It truly kept us on the edge of our seats until the last out in the bottom of the ninth inning with a Kansas City runner on third base who could have tied the game. Even though my Kansas City Royals did not prevail there are some excellent baseball metaphors that translate into some wonderful entrepreneurial lessons.

The MVP of the World Series was the Giants ace pitcher, Madison Bumgarner. Even though I’m a Royals fan I marveled at this cool, calm and collected 25-year old phenom. He pitched in three games during the Series and limited the Royals to nine hits, one run and one walk in 21 innings. Folks, this is called differentiation. There is no doubt that Bumgarner was the difference maker in the World Series for San Francisco. As entrepreneurs we increase our odds for success the more significantly we can differentiate our products or services.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals are a young team. There are no superstars in this bunch. The Royals didn’t even win their division, making the playoffs instead as a Wild Card entrant. They beat the Oakland Athletics in the Wild Card game; then swept the Los Angeles Angels and Baltimore Orioles to win the American League pennant. A lack of superstars also meant a lack of big egos and prima donnas. The result was a group of young men bonding together as a real team. This was most evident when one of the top hitters took it upon himself to lay down a sacrifice bunt to advance a runner when the Giants least expected it, rather than trying to hit it out of the park. Entrepreneurs succeed more often when we function in a true team fashion rather than as lone wolves.

While I’m gushing about my Royals, let me add another dimension about this team. It was evident that these guys were having fun. Game after game we saw scenes of players laughing, joking and genuinely enjoying themselves. Some of the players Tweeted where they were going to party after the games and bought thousands of dollars of drinks for their fans. What is the point of being an entrepreneur if we can’t have fun doing what we do? I’ve talked to a number of entrepreneurs who appear to be successful but are miserable. This is a dangerous “crash-and-burn” formula.

Finally, it was fascinating to observe the focus displayed by Giants and Royals players alike. When the focus was lost there were strikeouts, errors and walks. When the focus was maintained it was a thing of beauty. There were spectacular catches all over the field. Tough pitches were turned into base hits. Base running was exquisite. In the entrepreneurial world we know the importance of focus. If we “scatter our fire” we strike out more often than not. But when we focus, we create a special energy that serves to deliver the results we want.

Baseball is a sport. Entrepreneurs play for keeps. At the intersection of the two is differentiation, functioning as a true team, having fun and maintaining focus. Play ball!

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

baseball