Lean Baseball – Playing For Keeps

I love all kinds of sports.

The big five; football, baseball, basketball, hockey, and soccer, all have their own unique way of digging down into my innermost competitive being and capturing the undivided attention they so skillfully pursue.

I’m obsessed with football.  Pro, college…doesn’t make much difference.  My football motto: Any game, any time.  NBA Basketball bores me for the most part, but NCAA March Madness is tough to beat.  I’m not a big hockey fan; but in my opinion, one of the best shows on Earth is a game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.  I don’t follow soccer at all…except for what seems like every four years or so.  Only the World Cup can claim those precious few moments when the simple act of kicking a black and white ball into a rope net is raised to the thunderous level of national glory.

Baseball I find to be very intriguing.  Compared to the other sports mentioned, baseball is the only game played without any formal time limit.  NFL football has four 15-minute quarters, NBA basketball has four 12-minute periods.  NHL hockey is played with three 20-minute periods, and soccer has two 45-minute periods.

Baseball, on the other hand, has nine innings.  As most everyone knows, an inning is considered to be over, only when each team has achieved three outs.  There’s no official time limit.  Think about this:

In baseball, there are two types of players…hitters and pitchers.  Hitters try to hit the ball, while pitchers try to skillfully pitch the ball and strike the hitters out.  If hitters always got a hit, you’d never get out of the bottom of the 1st inning.  If pitcher’s always struck out the hitters, the innings would go on forever.  Somewhere between the bottom of the 1st inning and eternity…they play the game.

According to NEWSdial.com, the record for the longest major league baseball game ever played (most innings) was set in 1920 when National League teams Brooklyn Robins (Dodgers) and Boston Braves played 26 innings, before the game was finally called a tie at 1-1 on the account of darkness. The game was played on May 1, 1920.

26 innings…and they called the game a tie because it was getting too dark.  I would have asked for my money back.  Where’s the competitive spirit?

It seems as if just about every company today is interested in pursuing some form of lean initiative or continuous improvement activity.  Most would agree today’s economy demands at least an attempt to reap some benefit from these types of strategies.

I have a few questions.  How long do they plan on playing the lean game?  Will savings from a few innings (months, years?) of kaizen events offset the costs to field the teams, or should they reduce the salary cap and play for next year?  I think you get the point.

Implementing lean has become a game.  The sad part is, most companies are not even in it to win it.  Forced into simply trying to ‘hang on’ with everyone else due to the lack of a properly sustained and focused effort, they choose the easy way out.  Dabbling here and there with a few nifty tools or adopting the narrow-minded approach of focusing only on waste reduction may keep the customers in their seats for a while, but you won’t stay ahead of the teams in it for the season.

Lean tools have their purpose, and eliminating waste should certainly be a high priority.  If that’s all you’re bringing to the game though…you’re playing in the minor leagues.

Long-term lean success can only be achieved when we decide to implement the right way. Truly successful lean goals are consistently met when we support them with Continuous Improvement and Respect For People.  It’s always been that way.  Somewhere in the game, we’ve lost the ability to respect all of our teammates.  We settle for company cultures where only those folks we ‘value’ have any significance.  Everyone else simply drifts off into hidden corners; or worse, we let them go with the hope of a better economy.

Successful lean implementation does not allow for shortcuts.  We need to stop playing the easy game and spend some time letting those around us know we value them…no matter what the score is.

What’s the secret to winning with lean?   Start playing for keeps.

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About Steve Martin - theThinkShack

Hey there...I'm Steve. I built theThinkShack...a virtual hideaway about Lean Thinking and how it Connects to Everyday Life.
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6 Responses to Lean Baseball – Playing For Keeps

  1. Pingback: Lean Baseball – Playing For Keeps (Revisited) | theThinkShack

  2. Bob Martin says:

    Well I at least read it. Maybe the first because I am 72 and as lean as they get. Today is lean power washing day then visiting with some friends that just arrived from snowbird land. What a life. Without lean I would still be paying a mortgage and not having any fun at all.

    • Bob – I like your take on lean. Lean has no age discrimination, involves both processes (power washing) AND people (friends).
      Great testimony on applying lean principles thoughout one’s life…you get to pay off a mortgage AND have fun!

      For other ThinkShack readers: I’m fortunate to know Bob Martin quite well (ThinkShack full disclosure statement…he’s my dad). He provides a great example of the power of lean thinking. Applied to our personal lives, lean thinking allows us to get rid of ‘unproductive’ or ‘harmful’ areas in our lives and fill the freed-up space with pursuits of value.

      At 72, here’s a few links to value-added activities my dad considers FUN:
      Digging Water Wells in Guyana
      Providing Reading Glasses to Folks in Remote Places

      This theme ties nicely to Bill Waddell’s Special Excellence initiative. A quote from Bill’s site, “Let’s demonstrate the power of lean for the people who need us most”.

      Play For Keeps.

  3. Jim Fernandez says:

    Here where I work, we play lean like a soccer game.
    Slow moving.
    Kicking things back and forth with very little progress.
    Time limits.
    Low scores.
    The games can end with no winner.

    ( At least we don’t play it like hockey. Hockey is the same as soccer except once in a while you have people fighting. )

    • Jim,
      Your comment, “games can end with no winner” is haunting.
      Sad to think, but lean in many businesses is considered “a game”. We try implementing some neat “tools” we learned at last month’s manufacturing seminar…in an effort to appear busy…justifying our existence.
      Within the proper culture, lean thinking can lead to much more than just playing games. We can actually WIN at those things we set out to accomplish.

      • Jim Fernandez says:

        Good point Steve. I was being cynical with my comment.
        At my company sometimes we do win using lean.
        But most of the time it’s just like I said, we are playing a soccer game with no winner.

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