I spent the early part of my career hanging out with, networking with, and observing innovators and entrepreneurs. I've spent the years since hanging out with, networking with, and observing hitting and pitching coaches and players.
What I've learned is that, while those are two very different worlds, success or failure in each quite often hinges on the same word.
I first got my start in consulting, leveraging my instinct and ability to become an expert in the subject at hand. However, at the first opportunity, I jumped to the first of a series of software startups. There, I learned about innovation and entrepreneurship first-hand. Out of those two experiences came two books, the first complete and the second in progress...
As I discuss in The Paradox of Pain, when I think about innovation and entrepreneurship, the thing I focus on is pain. That is because the presence of pain -- physical pain or psychic pain (e.g. dissatisfaction or frustration) -- is the thing that will most reliably get customers to move from Point A to Point B.
As a result, when I've talked to would-be entrepreneurs and innovators at Washington University in St. Louis, it's what I teach them to look for. Similarly, when I'm evaluating elevator pitches or business plans, it's always the first thing I like for and the thing whose absence will scare me off.
What's the opposite of pain? What mindset and word concerns me the most when it comes to evaluating a potential venture or investment?
The problem with "should" is that, in my experience, it's too often disconnected from reality.
It's very easy to talk about what people SHOULD do; they should do the thing that to you makes logical sense. However, the key to succeeding as an innovator or entrepreneur isn't figuring out what people SHOULD do, it's figuring out what they WANT to do.
What the existence of pain will drive them to do.
The S-Word and Tom House
Because of my experience working with would-be innovators and entrepreneurs, my Should-Sense is highly trained; whenever I encounter someone who seems to be thinking in terms of "should," much less actually saying it, the hairs on my back stand up.
Well, I'm sitting here working on Tom House: The Solution or The Problem? I'm going over literally everything I can find that he has written or said about pitching. Guess what mindset and word keeps cropping up?
For instance, I bought Nolan Ryan's Pitcher's Bible to find out how Nolan Ryan got where he was and did what he did. While it's a great and valuable overview of his conditioning program, when it comes to pitching mechanics it's primarily composed of Tom House's views on how pitchers should move. What's odd is that, too often -- and by Nolan Ryan's own admission -- Tom House's thoughts and recommendations differ from what Nolan Ryan actually did.
The S-Word and Charley Lau
I can't say for sure, but it wouldn't surprise me if the reason I'm so sensitive to the word "should" is that it pretty much instantaneously killed my baseball career and swing.
In sixth grade, and due to what was likely a problem with Bat Drag, I went from being a decent line drive hitter to not being able to hit the ball hard at all. In an attempt to help me, my dad got his hands on a copy of Charley Lau's new book The Art of Hitting .300.
In it were two types of pictures of my favorite hitter, George Brett...
- Large pictures of how Charley Lau thought George Brett should swing the bat.
- Small pictures of how George Brett actually swung the bat.
Not surprisingly, my dad focused on the large, easy to see pictures of George Brett demonstrating Charley Lau's theories about how you should swing a bat. As a result, I ended up with a swing that looked nothing like George Brett's actual swing.
What Word Sums Up My Approach?
If there's one word that sums up my approach to observing and analyzing the world, it has to be this one.
Or did. Or does.
By do, did, or does, I mean...
- What do successful entrepreneurs and innovators do?
- How did Nolan Ryan throw the ball?
- How does Albert Pujols swing the bat?
I will sometimes throw in (actually) for emphasis, but that's redundant.
What I'm interested in is what the greats -- regardless of their field of endeavor -- actually do, not what someone thinks they do or should do.
Empirical vs. Theoretical
The fancy-schmancy way to sum up my point of view and approach is to say that it's empirical. I like that word because it's opposite is theoretical, and theoretical is very much like "should."
Instead of focusing on how George Brett and other great hitters actually swung the bat, Charley Lau's book is largely comprised of his theories about how good hitters should swing the bat. For instance, Lau says the following about a picture of Al Kaline that shows him in what is, in truth, an ideal position at the Point Of Contact.
For this to be a good swing, Al would have had to hit the ball more out in front of the plate. As it is, I think he may have been fooled a bit on the pitch. When he realized the ball was low and in, he had to go down to get it. And to do that he had to pull his left arm in, making it impossible to get full extension.
Of course "would have had to" is the same thing as "should have."
For this to be a good swing, Al should have hit the ball more out in front of the plate.
Similarly, instead of focusing on what Nolan Ryan did, Tom House is focused on his theories about what an ideal delivery should look like. The problem is that, given recent video of his pitchers, he is increasingly focused on teaching movements that inhibit, not encourage, movements like the ones Nolan Ryan employed.
The Problem and The Solution
The problem with baseball instruction is that it is too -- and increasingly -- theoretical and less and less empirical.
It's disconnected from reality.
That is all the more frustrating because it is in spite of -- but perhaps related to -- the proliferation of high speed video that makes it very obvious how the best players move.
I don't have a problem with Tom House discussing his theories about how pitchers should move, as longer as they are labelled as just that. My concern is when Tom House, directly or by implication, says that what he is advocating is what pitchers like Nolan Ryan did.
What I want to do is first focus on the empirical evidence; what the best baseball and fast pitch softball players actually do. If any theory emerges, it should be shaped by the empirical evidence.
Not vice versa.