Posted by: Knightbird | November 4, 2010

Billy Beane and Achievement in Baseball

As a coach, I know I need to find ways to develop talent in young boys. My colleagues look at kids and judge them as either talented or not talented. MLB Executives do the same. Someone judged as talented earns big bucks, but often doesn’t deliver on that talent. Look at the New York Yankees. What I learned from their example is that athletes who are told they are real talented don’t typically deliver on that talent. They are too afraid to fail, and their Managers remind them frequently that failure is not an option.  Young boys are the same way.  When told that they are naturally talented, they have something to lose, and don’t typically do the hard work and tackle the tough tasks necessary for improvement. Their talent should carry them above and beyond the other boys. Carol Dweck refers to this as the “Fixed Mindset.” The “Growth Mindset” facilitates achievement, learning and growth through effort and acceptance of mistakes as learning and improvement opportunities.

Carol Dweck used the example of Billy Beane as an example of change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

Billy Beane had both mindsets at different stages of his life. He was told he was talented as a baseball player starting as a schoolboy and through the major leagues. He was told he had the physical endowment and natural abilities to be one of the greats. He didn’t deliver. Failure drove him to distraction. He became angry at failure, and in the process, failed to learn how to improve. His teammate Lenny Dykstra was the complete opposite. As Beane said “He (Lenny) had no concept of failure. …And I was the opposite.”

Beane learned that mindset was more important than what some judged as talent. As general manager of the Oakland A’s, he led the 2002 team to 103 wins and a division championship. They did so with the second lowest payroll in the MLB. Beane and his team began building a team with a growth mindset, a team that worked hard and learned from mistakes. Mistakes were not failures, but opportunities to learn. According to Dweck, Beane “came to believe that scoring runs—the whole point of baseball—was much more about process than talent.”[i] Mr. Beane began looking for “Growth Mindset” ballplayers. The results were impressive.

Baseball is a business, but so is running a non-profit organization. To achieve, the business needs to deliver on its programs, products and services. American businesses focus on talent, and actually have very little data on which to assess the claims of talent other than an employment application, resume, interview and a few references. MLB Executives have considerable resources, and frequently make the wrong choice. As Mr. Beane discovered, its about process and a team scoring runs, and preventing the other team from scoring more runs than they do. When we find that an employee doesn’t have a growth mindset, and is unwilling to engage in continuously improving the processes we manage, we work to try and change their mindset from fixed to growth. If we can’t achieve that transformation, we believe it is best to let them move on to a different workplace that better models the type of environment they prefer to work in—talent based and oriented towards individual, not team, achievement.

For me, the lean management mindset reflects a growth mindset—mistakes and defects are treasures for us to learn from. It’s utterly amazing how employees respond once they discover that their Executives really mean it—problems are treasures.

Mr. Beane made the transformation from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset later in life, after a career that could have been more than it was. As a result, he had a second career in a field he wasn’t deemed a talent or a natural, as a baseball Executive. We can all learn from his conversion and successful example.

[i] Carol Dweck, Mindset, Ballantine Books: New York City (2006) p. 83


  1. Patrick – where have you gone? I miss your insightful blog posts… hope you are doing well.

  2. Same goes for me, Patrick. Hope to see you back here soon.

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