Sports, Technology and the Future of Management

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Because professional sports involve big money, competition is intense and that often leads organizations to innovate. In baseball, managers who run their teams the old-fashioned way—by gut instinct, based on years of experience—are being turfed out and replaced with younger managers who have almost no managerial experience, at least at the highest level. What they do have is a willingness to embrace data analytics.

In baseball, as in other sports, everything is measured. Fielders are being positioned based on historical information indicating where batters tend to hit the ball, for example. Some pitchers are removed after the fifth inning because statistics show that hitters do better against them the third time they face off during a game.

Some managers have resisted making changes based on the data. Older managers, such as Dusty Baker and John Farrell, have been replaced by younger managers who have less experience but are willing to base more decisions on what the data says they should do. Whether this is right or wrong is hard to say at this point, but I see an analogy between younger business managers willing to embrace new technologies, such as RFID and data analytics, and older managers who are more comfortable doing things the way they have always done them.

In business, bad decisions don't always produce bad results immediately, as they do in the sports world. So companies are often willing to continue doing things the way they've always done them, as long as sales are not declining. But not changing often means a slow and steady decline until things reach a point of no return.

We're seeing a lot of retailers hold on to the old way of doing things, even though it's not working well. Young people are more willing to buy online from Amazon than spend the time required to travel to a store, because they know that stores often don't have the items they want in stock. Rather than address that problem with new technologies, CEOs try new branding or new advertising.

When companies become desperate, and when it appears they might not survive, they finally begin to consider new technologies and new ways of doing things—but by that point, it may be too late. This is not a criticism. I know change is difficult. I've lived through a lot of changes in the publishing industry (we used typewriters when I started out), so I know. I am just describing how it is.

It's unfortunate that it takes a horrible losing season in sports for a team to change, and it's unfortunate that it takes several losing seasons in retail and other sectors before companies do so. On the other hand, it is exciting when a new generation with new ideas takes over—and, of course, it's great when experienced managers embrace change and bring both their experience and new technologies to bear, and lift an organization up.

I think there are a lot of new, young managers willing to embrace new technologies. Unfortunately, some companies will go under before those managers are afforded the opportunity to take over. Still, they will be part of a new group of businesses born with technology in their DNA, and they will do things with technologies in new ways and change retailing for the better. Of this I am certain, just as I am certain that the new crop of sports managers will change the nature of competition.

Last update: Dec 07, 2019

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