When Options Vanish
Yesterday's epic National League Playoff Game between Atlanta and Houston illustrates an important management principle for each of us.
If you missed it, the game was very tight and will likely prove to be a classic. The Astros came from 5 runs down to tie the game with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th. The two teams then put up zeros until the 17th inning when the Astros won on a home run and thus won the Divisional Playoffs.
The rules of baseball make this a useful management example. In such a long game, each manager made numerous substitutions to try to win, both in the late innings of regulation and then in each extra inning. Relief pitchers, pinch hitters, pinch runners. Since baseball requires players to leave the game once they are substituted for, the choices got more complex as they used up available players. The managers of both teams faced and made key decisions.
They ran out of options. Players were in positions they didn't normally play. Roger Clemens, the great 43-year old veteran pitcher, was a pinch-hitter. The Braves had Julio Franco, the living fossil, playing first base. At age 47 (we think), Franco is older than 8 current major league managers. The Astros had a rookie shortstop, Eric Bruntlett, in right field.
They didn't whine. At least not about the rules. They played the game and made the best of the situation.
They balanced the "now" with the "future". Bobby Cox and Phil Garner had to weigh out each decision and balance its effect on the current situation (often one at-bat at a time) with the impact it would have on the lineup for the remainder of the game. And, in choosing to use Clemens as a relief pitcher, with how even the next game might set up.
What do we learn? Managing a business is also about succeeding now, while not cutting off future possibilities. As Eli Goldratt says, the purpose of a business is "To make money now and into the future." Sometimes we don't have the options we'd like to have or the options we had in the past. Whining never gets us anywhere. Relentless pursuit of excellence does win out. For, even though the Braves lost the game and are now out of the playoffs, Bobby Cox and crew have won 14 straight division championships. They deserved to be there.
Be relentless, even when options start to vanish.
I hope this is helpful.
Oh, and if you enjoy baseball illustrations of management principles, check out Jeff Angus' excellent blog Management by Baseball.