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Olga Crosse

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Brad Pitt, Orchids and the Oakland Athletics

Posted: 05/04/2012 8:20 am

I settled down last recently with a giant bag of Doritos, a lovely glass of wine and the DVD Moneyball, a true story about Oakland baseball team's manager Billy Beane starring Brad Pitt. About two minutes into it instead of focusing on the delectable Brad, I was actually oddly gripped by the theme of the story, which goes like this.

In 2005 Billy/Brad managed a so-so baseball team the Oakland Athletics. He is told by the owner there is no money to buy in talent, but he will still need to stay in the top league right up there with the Boston Red Sox and New York Knicks. So Billy/Brad goes off, a bit annoyed wondering what the hell he is going to do, with no money. He is left with the cast offs, runts of the litter, players other clubs do not want including older players, players who pitched in a different way, who were overweight, were injured and couldn't play their normal position. Billy/Brad then meets this statistician who turns the conventional way of picking and playing a baseball team (which included rating players girlfriends level of attractiveness -- attractive girlfriend = confident player!) on its head. Oakland was forced by monetary constraints to pick players from the available pool based on characteristics that others dismiss but who show potential in other areas. Malcolm Gladwell calls them Outsiders.

Billy/Brad with his bunch of has-beens and misfits team went on to win 20 straight wins in 2005 against all those major league clubs who had sneered at his unconventional approach. Those very same clubs who laughed at him now adopt those very same methods themselves in an attempt to emulate his historic success. Spotting potential in sport has now become the norm.

This got me seriously thinking, how many of us in everyday life particularly in our careers are either overlooked, cast off or overlook other people because they do not exactly fit the exact mold or 'type' that we are lead to believe breeds traditional success? How much potential have we all let slip through our fingers, that if spotted, could in the right situation go on to help the organization, team or club to great things.

It turns out that most people are afraid of Outsiders because they turn conventional thinking on its head and challenge the norms of thinking, which most organizations and lets face it most people fail to understand and are a little bit afraid of. The thing about Outsiders though is (according to David Brooks in his book The Social Animal) they are like orchids, if not nurtured they will die and quickly. In organizations -- they under-perform, fail and either leave or are fired, however, if orchids are nurtured and protected in the right environments, they will flourish and often lead to flashes and bursts of genius which can greatly benefit an organization. How many orchids did Fred Goodwin or Dick Fuld ignore or fired and look how well that fared because they surrounded themselves by people too afraid to challenge them. In Oaklands case the orchids/Outsiders were allowed to flourish purely because the manager had no choice.

It's my experience that as a whole we are all really bad at spotting and nurturing potential, often because we are bad managers, are managed badly, are prejudiced and afraid to think of something different. A recent survey conducted by Penna, Henley Business School and the Chartered Management Institute found that over 50 percent of staff in the UK find their managers ineffective and not up to the job and over 43 percent of managers find their own managers ineffective! That's a lot of dying orchids!

I look at the ageism and sexism that is rife throughout organizational culture. I look at all those minorities in mundane menial jobs, I look at people who are overweight who are ignored and sneered at, some who are simply the born female or gay, who did not get that public school education, who are creative and that bit quirky, that today's managers could no more spot or nurture if that ball hit them square in the face.

Think of all that diversity, potential ideas and profit going to waste, due to our fear of people who will rock the boat, challenge conventional thinking because they do not conform or fit in. Steve Jobs or Richard Branson would never get a look in these days and that's a real shame.

By 2017, the research suggests that the UK will need more than 2 million additional managers (I know that seems strange in the current economic climate), given that 50 percent currently are deemed ineffective that is potentially a lot of orchids that will be left to wilt and die by sheer incompetence and fear.

Sometimes its better to take a leap of faith, become a chancer an Outsider even, stop looking at what you have, but instead look left at what you might potentially have. Instead of firing a struggling employee, or worse ignoring one, look beyond and see whats really there, even if its not in their chosen field, that could well lead your organization to its very own Moneyball and 20 consecutive home runs!

 
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