Sunday, October 19, 2003

Finishing the Task

Is there anything one can learn from the tragic collapse of the Chicago Cubs in the National League playoffs last week? Getting beyond the "Billy Goat Curse", the history of laughable flopping, management gaffes, Ernie Broglio and ticket scalping schemes, consider the following.

The Cubs came up a mere 5 outs short. In Game 6 of the NL playoffs, they had a three-run lead with 1 man out in the 8th inning and no one on base, their ace, Mark Prior, pitching. And the wheels came off the wagon at that point, as they gave up 8 runs in that 8th inning, lost the game and effectively never recovered.

There is no clock in baseball. Success only comes by clear action, not by stalling. Specifically, one must get the other team out 27 times per game. So just how close were the Cubs, with only 5 outs standing between them and a trip to the World Series??

  • With a regular season of 162 games, plus 5 games in the first round and 6 games in the second round of the playoffs, the Cubs had a total of 4,671 outs to make.
  • The 5 outs that remained constituted only 0.107% of the total outs for the year! Or, they were 99.893% of the way to the finish!
  • Taking this same proportion to the length of a marathon race (26 miles, 385 yards), they came up 49.3 yards short!
I can hear the Olympic announcer: "And now, entering the stadium is the leader in the Marathon! She's all alone after 26 miles and over 2 hours of running! The gold medal is in her sight! She's onto the final straightaway! The crowd is cheering! Wait, wait...she's down! She's grabbing her left calf in pain! The muscles are in spasm!! She has only half the straightaway to go...but she can't get up! She's straining but can't seem to move! And, entering the stadium is the second place runner! She's going to pass the leader! She does!! And she wins! It is unbelievable!!!"

The reasons for the Cubs' collapse will be debated all winter (one of the Cubs' annual contribution to mental health in the Midwest is by providing much to mull about every winter...this will be no exception). But, whatever the reason, they came up short.

How often do we do this in any project? How often to we launch into some waste-eradicating effort, build up a lead and then not finish it off? How often are we happy with getting 99.893% of the job done?

Success depends on finishing the job. I hope this is helpful.

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