What Business Can Learn from the World Champion San Francisco Giants

San Francisco Giants Win the 2010 World Series

San Francisco Giants Win the 2010 World Series

As a lifelong baseball fan, I’ve followed the Giants since I moved to California in 1989. Some years were better than others—we had the Barry Bonds home run chase combined with the steroids fiasco, and we made it to the 2002 World Series where the Giants almost beat Anaheim, but couldn’t quite do it. Over the last half century some of the best players in the game wore a San Francisco uniform, including Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, Vida Blue, Will Clark, Bobby and  Barry Bonds, and Randy Johnson, among others, but still the top prize eluded the Giants, year after year.

But this year has been different. There was a different feel to this team—no top sluggers or big celebrities, just a cast of characters and misfits that was like the Little Engine That Could. Yes, they tortured us with closes losses and even closer wins, and kept me on the edge of my seat as I watched, listened to, or followed online nearly all of the 177 games they played this season. But this team of San Francisco Giants just kept going and refused to believe it wasn’t possible to win it all—until last night when they actually did.

Here are a few key lessons businesses can take away from this year’s championship San Francisco team:

1.       Don’t believe the other team’s PR.

How many times this year did we hear how good the opposition was—whether it was the Rockies and the Padres, or the best-record-in-baseball Phillies, or the AL Champion Rangers? Rather than be derailed by the reputation of the competition, the Giants focused on doing what they had to do to get the job done. As a result, they beat some of the best pitchers in the game: Cliff Lee (twice), Roy Halliday, Roy Oswalt, Tim Hudson, and, during the regular season red-hot pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez.

2.       Play to your strengths.

If you’ve got outstanding pitching, then outpitch the top hitters. Don’t worry about the fact that you don’t have the top sluggers in the game or the fastest base runners or the strongest arms in the outfield. Focus on what you do best and use that to outplay your competition. If you’ve got one of the best left-handed relievers in Javier Lopez, bring him in to shut down left-handed power hitters. When you play in a ballpark that’s unfriendly to homerun hitters, let Matt Cain pitch and get flyball outs. Use your strengths and don’t worry about pumping up your weaknesses.

3.       It’s ok to be the underdog.

It’s great to be the top rated player in the field, whether in sports or in the market, but sometimes there are advantages to being the team that’s underrated and underappreciated. You’re often able to sneak up on the other guys and surprise them with what you’ve got. Plus having something to prove can make a team work harder and more cohesively towards a common goal.

4.       Learn from your mistakes.

If something doesn’t work, change it. Mix up the rotation. Bring in new players.  Bench the highly paid players if you have to. But keep what works and change what doesn’t.

5.       Ignore sunk costs when making key go-no-go decisions.

How many times do we see businesses throwing good money after bad trying to salvage some return from a bad investment? The Giants invested $126 million in star pitcher Barry Zito with very little return the last several years and a dismal performance the second half of this season. When it came time to choose a postseason team, Zito wasn’t on the roster—because he was not the right man for the team, regardless of how much he’d been paid.

6.       Change the rules.

Don’t follow what everyone else is doing. Compete on your own terms. Bring up rookie Buster Posey and make him your everyday catcher. Team him with rookie pitcher Madison Bumgarner to put the first rookie battery in the World Series since the 1940s. Bring your closer in for more than one inning. Trade much of your opening day lineup if they’re not the right players for the team. Shake up the roster and move players around to see what works. Be creative and work with what you’ve got till you’ve figured out what brings results.

7.       Believe in yourselves.

To quote Million Dollar Consultant Alan Weiss, the first sale is always to yourself. If you don’t believe you can do it, how will you convince everyone else? An interesting phenomenon in baseball is how the demeanor of the pitcher and catcher impact the way an umpire calls balls and strikes. When a pitcher is in his groove and the catcher is getting pitches right where he calls for them, the umpire will give them the benefit of the doubt and call a strike on a close pitch. When the pitcher and catcher don’t seem to believe in themselves, as happened with the Rangers in Game 2 of the World Series, the umpire doesn’t believe in them either and gives close calls to the batter instead.

8.       Solid teamwork beats outstanding individual performance.

In a sport that requires the efforts of the whole team for sustained success, the 2010 Giants had a significant advantage over most other teams: They brought together a group of misfits, castoffs, and second-string players who were willing to work harder than the other teams and do what it took to win. Most importantly, these players put the team’s success ahead of their individual glory, as witnessed by Aubrey Huff’s bunt in the final game of the World Series—the first time he’d bunted in his entire 10 year major league career. These players supported each other and stepped up to carry the load when other team members were slumping or injured. As a result, they were able to do what some of the game’s most outstanding performers couldn’t for 50 years—win the World Series.

9.       Don’t give up when you’re down.

The Giants followed a strong July with a horrid August—at one point winding up 7 games behind the San Diego Padres. Yet, they never gave up, even when they were down to their last strike in the bottom of the ninth inning. Instead, they focused on winning the game at hand, then the next and the next. If they couldn’t win the Division title, they could get the Wild Card and compete that way. A funny thing happened with all that determination and focus—the Giants went right past the Wild Card to win the National League West title and the rest, as they say, is history.

10.   Never lose sight of what’s possible.

Don’t grumble about where you’ve been or what you can’t do. Focus on what you *can* do and what you can achieve. Turn your bugs into features or your quirks into a marketing advantage. Whether it’s Tim Lincecum hair or Fear the Beard signs, use your unique characteristics to separate yourself from the pack. When the Kung Fu Panda hits a bad slump, put in the injured, beat up  and badgered veteran Edgar Renteria. Let him have a chance to hit over .400 in the World Series, in spite of a torn left bicep, and become the Series MVP.

And, above all: Have fun.

No matter whether you rooted for or against the Giants this year, one thing was clear: This was a team of guys who was out there having a great time, each and every day. From Tim Lincecum, the Cy Young award-winning pitcher they call The Freak to Aubrey Huff with his red rally thong to closer Brian Wilson with his extra-black beard, this team savored every moment together—on the field and off. They loved playing the game and they appreciated each other, their die-hard fans and the city by the Bay that waited 52 years for its World Series crown. After all, to quote the banners hanging on AT&T Park, “It’s magic inside!”

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