Saturday, October 15, 2011

Head Vs. Heart: Moneyball

Heart vs. Head
You’ve seen variations on this plot before: an established business is disturbed when the hotshot comes in with an emphasis on the bottom line and effectiveness statistics. The newcomer shakes things up, but soon learns that the old timers have a lot of wisdom and the most important element of any business really is heart.
In 1957’s “The Desk Set”, Spencer Tracy tries to bring these new fangled computers to the research department of a television network until Katherine Hepburn shows him that a machine can’t match the heart of a librarian.
In 1986’s slightly racist, “Gung Ho”, Gedde Watanabe tries to turn around an American auto plant with the principles of Japanese efficiency until Michael Keaton shows him that those business models are no match for the heart of the American worker.
Even last year’s “The Company Men” pitted the sinister bottom lined focused Craig T. Nelson in the world of shipping versus Tommy Lee Jones who, once again, values people as people, not as economic units that can be eliminated to help the stock prices. (Not a bad little film, this.)
This year’s “Moneyball” takes some of these same themes into the world of professional baseball. Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) comes to the Oakland A’s and tries to turn around the fortunes of a small market team. The film pits Beane as a manager who values cost cutting, statistics and the bottom line vs. the coaching and scouting staff who value intuition, institutional wisdom and decisions made by the gut.
Except this time, the film gets the audience to root for the guy with the metaphorical slide rules. Beane comes saying he doesn’t care whether a player looks good in a uniform or has “heart”, he just wants to know the player’s on base percentage.
And Beane is forced by the owner’s budget to highly value the bottom line.
Yes, through the film, we see Beane honoring the dignity of players (as a former player himself) and making decisions not at all based on economic factors. But the importance of science, statistics and economics shines through.
One of the most amazing feats of the film is making what on its face is a very dry subject (baseball strategy and building a team) into a very entertaining, funny, and touching film. (A friend of mine, who hates sports, enjoyed the film.) A lot of the credit goes to the script writers, Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”) and Aaron Sorkin (who last year made a topic even more unlikely, the founding of Facebook, into a wonderful film, “The Social Network”.)
Credit must also go to Pitt and Jonah Hill (as his assistant) presenting a highly unlikely partnership that blooms into a wonderful friendship. Readers of the fine book which this film is based on might be surprised by the addition of Beane’s family life, which makes this one of the few father/daughter baseball films.
In the church, I think we are also highly distrustful of those who bring “science” to church policy. When someone brings up church growth studies, many of us are tempted to dismiss such people as unspiritual. Shouldn’t we just close our eyes and let the Spirit lead us by faith?
Why bring management theory into church board meetings? Shouldn’t we rely on Scripture alone?
Yes, Scripture, the leading of the Spirit and prayer should be the primary church decision making.
But if you look at Acts 6: 1-7, you’ll see leaders of the young church in Jerusalem facing the administrative task of feeding people, and they find a solution to the problem that might be encouraged by a MBA.
Even in the church, we need to value the head and the heart.

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