Super Cities №81 — What Baseball Can Teach Us About Innovation

Brendan Hart

One Big Thing

Giancarlo Stanton, meet Joe DiMaggio


Joe DiMaggio’s 1941 season was one of the best in baseball history: .357 batting average; 30 home runs; 125 RBIs; and a still-record-setting 56-game hitting streak.

Last year, Giancarlo Stanton had a monster season: .281 batting average; 59 home runs; and 132 RBIs.

Both won the Most Valuable Player award.

But in 1941, DiMaggio struck out 13 times. In 2017, Stanton struck out 163 times.

Does that matter, as the headline implies?

Objectively, Stanton’s strikeouts are no better or worse than DiMaggio’s groundouts. In either case, they had unsuccessful at-bats.

But batting, like much of life, is not objective; coaches have taught generations of kids to subjectively approach hitting — to assess that strikeouts are worse than groundouts. These players learned that one type of failure is worse than another kind of failure.

Using this logic, a batter with two strikes — when he is closest to failure — should significantly change his approach to the task at hand. He will choke up on the bat and, instead of trying to hit a home run, he will simply try to make contact. He does not want to walk, shoulders-slumped, back to the dugout, so he attempts to put the ball in play.

In other words, to avoid failure, he will change his approach to success.

But today’s game has evolved from the one DiMaggio played in 1941 — it rewards and punishes different things.

Stanton is paid nearly $30 million-a-year to increase home runs, not decrease strikeouts. Because his goal is to hit a home run, Stanton does not and should not choke up when he has two strikes. He should not try to make contact to avoid a strikeout.

He should go for the big win rather than avoid the small loss.

This evolution is not unique to baseball. I think it exists in business too.

Historically, starting a company that did not work — striking out in front of the world — was considered the worst kind of business failure.

But now, the size of your business wins — home runs and RBIs — matter more than the number of attempts.

In the world of innovation, we learn how to hit home runs by following our ambition, diverging from groupthink, and learning faster than our competitors.

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