It’s All Pretty Stupid

Murray Pratt Blog, Business Insights Leave a Comment

Boys getting ready to play baseball

After attending my son’s Peewee baseball tournament in a suburb of metropolitan Vancouver a couple weekends ago, I came to the conclusion that we are doing a good job of preparing our children for the world of work.

You know the world of work these days. The place you go where the goals of the organization are murky at best, and the systems and processes for getting there – wherever ‘there’ is – are complex and arcane, developed in many cases by people who actually had never worked in the industry before……or have never worked before.

Before I go further, let me say this. I am a minor hockey coach – I think a pretty decent one. I see minor sports primarily as a way of building ‘community’; of developing character in our children– helping them learn from both ‘the winning’ and ‘the losing’ that occurs. I like sports especially for teaching our children how to be part of a team.

Our little league baseball team went undefeated that weekend…won all 4 of our games. The team still ended up in 3rd place in an 8- team tournament. Hmm? It’s plausible I guess, if you have 3 teams with the same record and there was a tie-breaker. But that wasn’t the case. There were two teams in the final. One that had the same record as us before the final game – 3 wins, 0 losses. But the other team that played them had a 1 win 2 loss record. That team lost to our team, and previously to the team they were now playing in the final.

You see, the ‘tournament’ wasn’t really a tournament at all. It was a competition to see who could let in the least amount of runs. The finalists were determined by a calculation – done by adults, by unknown administrators – after hours, and not observable to all the participants.

It reminded me of a spoof news story that got released about a soccer association deciding not to use any soccer balls so that there could be ‘no winners’ and ‘no losers’ in any game! Essentially it was a ‘soccer pantomime’ where EVERYBODY WINS!

http://www.sportsgrid.com/soccer/entire-nation-of-canada-gloriously-punkd-by-networks-story-on-youth-soccer-no-ball-league/

Being a Canadian I can say this. It’s just so Canadian! Right up there with our tendency to apologize to instant bank machines, our desire to cross the road to get to the middle, and bragging about our health care system paid for by high taxes on liquor and tobacco…as we line up at the US Border on the weekend to go down and buy those things for much less – thus avoiding paying those taxes!

In the little leagues there are events called ‘jamborees’. They’re nice, these jamborees, because they’re more of a social thing. You get to play a series of teams – no winners and no losers per se  – because there are no playoffs, no championships and everyone gets a medallion!

But a tournament is a different thing, comes with a different set of expectations – a different expectation emanating from the kids themselves. And that is my acid test. We could have lost 4 games, split 2-2…I don’t really care. In fact the weird calculation for the finals allowed us to play at a much more favorable time for our family schedules.

But the kids were working for a result that they could clearly see – making a fair assumption in my estimation of things. And that assumption was ‘if we win all of our games then we will win the tournament, that is why we entered a tournament, isn’t it?’.  Pretty straightforward.

But you see, the adults get very involved in these things. And they start messin’ about. Here is just a smidgeon of the rules:

  • Make 35 pitches – no rest
  • Make 55 pitches – one night rest
  • Make 75 pitches – two nights rest

(Those all make sense – saving kids’ throwing arms)

  • No more than 3 runs in the first inning
  • No more than 4 runs in innings 2-6
  • Open runs in inning 7
  • First year pitchers only in innings 1 and 2

Now add on the calculations of number of runs scored against you over 3 games…and you will get a sense of why the parents on the other team we played – the one  with 1 win 2 losses – spent so much time on paperwork, calculations, talking to umpires, coaches and the administrators. I couldn’t figure it out…’just let the kids’ play’ I thought to myself. In fact, I am pretty sure their coaches weren’t saying to them…

‘Don’t worry about losing the game, we just need good defense. The batting isn’t really that important in the game anyways. You don’t need to steal a base either. Just work on pitching and fielding.’

Then it hit me. That is the prevailing ethos in our workplaces. Like the kids on our little league baseball team, most of the frontline workers have no idea what the goals are for the organization. I know that as the President of a trucking software and freight brokerage software company that I have to do a better job of clarifying that with my team.

And then the management starts to do all sorts of measurements. Like the adults who sit at the sidelines and score and analyze the game, the executives – who actually don’t spend time with the customers, spend their time building spreadsheets and performing analysis on all sorts of things.

‘Did you know that when our staff comes up to bat with two on base, with a 3-0 count, in a 4 to 1 game, convert 20% of the time during a double-header after a blue moon?’

Then after all the hard work occurs, the players are told that they actually didn’t win. In fact, they are told that they haven’t been winning all along. In fact there was an entirely different game going on. And now we need to make changes. And like the kids who really worked hard and thought that they had accomplished something – they will now have to be downsized. And then, like the kids who were playing the game to win, but lost, they will get a reprieve for just showing up. It’s sort of like the guy who doesn’t do anything but can share a good joke and socialize with the boss. Like that 1-2 team that gets to the finals, he keeps his job – while those left have to do even more work…just so he can keep telling more jokes. And he will say to himself.

‘I must be a good worker. I must be valuable. After all, they kept me’.

You see…it makes so much sense doesn’t it?

Last night as I talked to my son as he took shots at our outdoors baseball hoop – doing his best to mimic Steph Curry’s three-point jump shot – he said simply to me that the tournament was ‘stupid’.

I had to agree with him…yep, pretty stupid. It’s ALL pretty stupid.

Murray Pratt
President & CEO
Tailwind Transportation Software

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