Moneyball and the Business of Unconventional Ideas



It’s the holiday season of 2004, and my father sits in his office at the Credit Suisse First Boston building in Madison Square Park.  As he reviews a loan proposal for a plot of land off the coast of California, an intern knocks on his door.  He is holding about 10 giftwrapped boxes in his arms and hands one to my father.  He opens the gift to find the book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, which has been distributed to everyone in the office by his boss and senior manager of the commercial real estate division of CSFB.  Inside the cover is a hand-written note that reads  “Happy Holidays. Hope this book will inspire you to think outside the box.”

This Friday, film-adaption of the book will hit theaters.  The movie will open the door for boyfriends, who want an inside look at one of the most revolutionary ideas to hit America’s pastime in the past 20 years, to feel comfortable going to a sports movie with their girlfriends, who just want a look at Brad Pitt.  But let’s not undervalue what this story means to business in general, not just baseball.

The irony of my father’s boss handing him that book is that banks such as CSFB were thinking out-of-the-box at the time.  They were selling deregulated derivatives and creating high-risk mortgage loans and slapping AAA ratings on them.  But this type of “out-of-the-box” thinking led to the worst economic crisis in recent years.  This probably was not the message Moneyball was promoting.

Maybe that is why more recent graduates are jumping on David’s side instead of Goliath, steering clear of over-exposed “traditional” companies, and choosing to start their careers at lesser known start-ups and small businesses.  People are attracted to the sexiness of new, unconventional ideas.

If marketers learn anything from Moneyball, it’s that as much as the old guard may resist change, out-of-the-box thinking is the way of the future.   And while companies are allotting more budget to Facebook contests and Google Ad Words, are these efforts really enough to put you on the forefront of ever-changing markets?

The Oakland Athletics were successful in the same way Zynga has earned $500 million for pioneering social gaming; consumers want to be a part of businesses that are on the front lines of thinking.  While CEOs do not need to bet the company on emerging technologies, they would be ill advised to omit investing in innovation.  A brand that scraps conventional ideas is one that consumers will be eager to associate with.  I think Billy Beane would agree with that.

Which other, lesser-known companies do you think are emerging to lead the way in innovation?