• Tony Richards

The Trouble With Thinking Differently

Leaders think differently. True, authentic leaders think differently.

And…it can get you into trouble. Check this familiar video out:


When you think differently, people think you are crazy, a misfit and…a troublemaker. Case in point. The recent hit movie “Moneyball” starring Brad Pitt as Billy Beane. Billy Beane grew up in baseball, from a little leaguer through a short, tough professional career in the major leagues. He had a chance to go to Stanford on a scholarship, but chose rather to play baseball professionally in the New York Mets organization.

After being traded around to a few teams, Billy quit baseball in 1989 to pursue being part of baseball’s management system, and becoming the General Manager of the Oakland A’s team in 1997. In the movie, Billy realizes he and his managers must learn to think differently if they are ever going to compete in baseball’s heavy spending on players landscape.  He understands the tried and true methods of the past no longer are working in the changed world he and his team is trying to compete in. How to get a competitive team on the field with little to no money in the bank (relatively speaking, of course).

What happens to Billy when he introduces the concept of thinking differently to his team of managers? Well, all hell breaks loose. First of all, his player development staff rebels at the idea Billy would have any independent thought beyond their own, especially when he rejects such thinking as a player has no self-confidence because he has an ugly girlfriend. Next, his on-field manager rejects his ideas and refuses to implement the strategy Billy wants to pursue by not playing the players Billy has acquired for the new thinking strategy.

Many times, as a leader, you will face more obstacles to your new thoughts inside than outside your organization.

The great Jack Welch, fromer CEO of GE said, “When the rate of change outside your organization exceeds the rate of change inside, the end of your organization is in sight.”

The are three great parts to “Moneyball” for me.

1. When Billy finds Peter Brand

Leaders need at least someone who buys-in. Billy notices Peter at a meeting with the Cleveland Indians and knows he thinks differently than most of the baseball powers that be. At this point, it becomes Billy and Peter against the world. It’s very inspirational. As a leader, you need to be around some like-minded people. If you want to be someone who thinks differently, you need to find someone else who does as well. Being around people who think status quo will only frustrate you if you truly lead by being a different thinker.

2. When Billy’s strategy begins to work

Leaders take on challenges. Leaders set the course for their organizations and they meet resistance head on. Billy faces the challenge of getting his people to believe his ideas will work and he comes up with a very innovative way of forcing the issue. Leaders don’t give up on their ideas. Leadership takes the form of helping take people from where they are to where they need to be. Of course, the most resistant of the managers who is forced into compliance also gets the most credit when the strategy begins to work and the team goes on a record-braking winning streak. Leaders don’t have to get credit; they just need their ideas to get results.

3. When Billy gets totally vindicated for thinking differently

Leaders become highly sought after when everyone else catches on to their different ideas. Billy is offered a job with the Boston Red Sox at the end of the season, as they also understand they can’t keep doing what they’ve been doing and expect different results. They had not competed for a world championship since the beginning of the previous century, causing the sophisticated baseball thinkers to believe the team is cursed. Another idea Billy would reject, I’m sure. They offer him the job of accomplishing that goal based on what he had done with his team in Oakland which would make him the highest paid General Manager in baseball. He refuses the job, preferring to romanticize baseball in Oakland. Boston goes on to use the sabermatic principles to win their first world championship. But, Billy is vindicated rather than victimized as he had been when the story started.

The trouble with thinking differently is, you will more than likely be victimized more than vindicated at the outset. Especially if your ideas are fairly at odds with the prevailing thinking. The great news about thinking differently is, well….you can change the world.

Carry on, leaders.

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