Posts Tagged ‘Harvard Business Review’

A lot has been made lately about the “bat flipping” trend taking place in Major League Baseball. (God help us if people start calling it “Bat-gate.”)

Some baseball players, after hitting a ball that they know is going to result in a home run—Major Leaguers, especially home run hitters, can usually tell from the feel of bat hitting ball whether they got “all of it,” i.e. hit it hard and high enough that it’ll end up in the outfield seats.

When they get that special home run feeling in their arms and hands and legs and eyes and ears, sometimes, they toss or flip their bat up in the air, some with more flourish than others, as if to say, “Yup, I know that one’s gone.” The gesture is celebratory, self-promotional, and ultimately innocuous.

Unless you’re on the other team, apparently.

The “unwritten rules” of professional baseball—which are so numerous and rigid that I often wish someone would have actually, ya know, written them down—say that a bat flip “shows up” the other team, i.e. makes them look bad. And more so, it “disrespects for the game.” (Is it weird that I’m quoting text that I just told you was unwritten? Why yes, yes it is.)

Historically this sort of infraction has been self-policed by Major Leaguers. If you flip your bat after hitting a home run against one of baseball’s more irascible pitchers—presumably one who has read the unwritten rules many times on the toilet—you can expect that said pitcher will “plunk” you, “put one in your ear,” or to forgo anymore MLB argot, they’ll throw the ball at you as hard as they can in an attempt to hit you as a form of punishment.

Whether the act of bat flipping should be considered offensive to the other team—I don’t think it is—or whether bat flippers deserve some form of retaliation against them—a grown man intentionally throwing a baseball at another grown man, really?—is not what I care about, at least not for the purpose of this blog post. (And yet it took me seven paragraphs and over 300 words to get to the purpose of this blog post!)

The purpose is to understand whether bat flipping is something that we should worry about as it relates to youth sports. Should we be concerned if a 10-year-old little leaguer celebrates a great moment, such as a home run, by flipping his bat three feet in the air? Is this the sort of showy, unsportsmanlike behavior that indicates that kid’s future success or failure in the real world? Should we be telling our young athletes to “act like they’ve been there before,” and hold in that emotion until some other unnamed future time when it’s acceptable to let it out? Perhaps the safe zone lies in between not showing any emotion and giving every kid a participation, avoiding to have to label some kinds winners and others losers.

Bat-gate (crap, now I’m saying it!) came to a head when the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista hit the biggest home run of his life this past week. Bautista, one of the game’s premiere sluggers, has hit hundreds of home runs in his career, but none more important than this one, which put his team ahead in a win-or-go-home playoff game. Upon getting that special home run feeling (that sounds creepier every time I type it out) he stared for an extra split second as the ball traveled towards its eventual home in the stands, then flipped his bat way up into the air, almost angrily, as if to dismiss anyone who had any doubt he could do what he just did.

And yet the opposing team, a lot of people around baseball, and many media personalities, believe it was the wrong thing to do. Showing emotion, apparently, has no place in baseball.

But what about the kids??? What should we tell them to do in moments like this, when their visceral instinct tells them to act on the outside as happy as they feel on the inside?

As the parent of zero children, I believe they should show as much emotion as they want, so long as they aren’t directing any animosity to the other team. A celebratory bat flip is fine—even if it’s simply meant to pat themselves on the back—but pointing at the pitcher and saying, “you suck,” is a no-no.

If the goal of youth sports is indeed to prepare kids—99.9% of whom won’t end up playing professionally—for the real world by teaching them life skills like leadership and sportsmanship and teamwork and the value of practice and hard work, then we also have to include self-promotion on that list.

Like it or not, the business world is becoming increasingly about (if it ever wasn’t) being able to furnish your own personal highlight reel at a moment’s notice. You may find yourself in an elevator with the CEO of the company for which you work, and you’ll need the perfect elevator pitch for when she asks you what you’re working on, or simply, how it’s going.

An understated response to this question, “Busy,” or “Fine,” or changing the subject to the weather, won’t do. Not if you want to get her attention. (Yeah that’s right, it’s a female CEO, you misogynist.) No, you’ll need to tell her, succinctly but with a healthy dose of enthusiasm, how you are directly contributing to the success of the company, and on which projects, specifically, you’re “crushing it” (like a boss, of course). This is the bat flip of the corporate world.

Like it or not, this is the wave of the future as Millennials much younger than myself continue to invade the workforce. Communication has forever been socially networked, and now there’s no feat too small to brag about, including what you do between 9 and 5 (or 6 or 10). So to ask a 10-year-old not to be showy when he does something well, like hit a home run, score a touchdown, or make a jumpshot (or for that matter, ace a test or just absolutely nail his hypothesis on a science project) you might actually be doing him a disservice.

Of course these are not hard and fast rules, set to appear on Harvard Business Review, Elementary School Edition. But I think it’s worth considering that if you are going to operate under the assumption that youth sports prepares kids for life, you should probably think holistically about what that life might look like 10 or 15 years after they leave little league.

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I read a story in Harvard Business Review this week about Patagonia’s “Buy Less” campaign, in which the outdoor apparel brand is actually encouraging customers to cut down on their purchasing of Patagonia products. HBR explains:

To put its buy-less idea into action, Patagonia recently partnered with eBay to enable consumers to resell their used Patagonia apparel via the Common Threads Initiative within eBay. In addition, consumers will now be able to resell their used Patagonia apparel on a new Used Clothing & Gear section on Patagonia’s website. The company wants to influence consumer buying behavior as part of its corporate mission. Patagonia (and other sustainability pundits) views individuals’ consumption as a considerable drain on natural resources. And with the global population forecast to swell to over 9 billion by 2050, left unchecked, this drain will become significant.

HBR’s story tries to determine whether this initiative, which it calls “genuine and borderline heroic,” will ultimately increase Patagonia’s revenue. But I’m more interested in how an idea like this affects the customer. When I read about the “Buy Less” campaign, I thought of an old Chris Rock bit:

“The government curing AIDS? That’s like Cadillac making a car that last for fifty years… and you know they can do it! But they ain’t gonna do something that fucking dumb! Shit! They got metal on the space shuttle that can go around the moon and withstand temperatures up to 20,000 degrees. You mean to tell me you don’t think they can make an El Dorado where the fucking bumper don’t fall off?”

If a company makes a product that lasts too long, it’ll be a while before they’ll see any repeat business.

In 2009 I was in the market for a new PC. My Dell Dimension, which I’d received as a Christmas present in 2000, was on its last leg. I consulted my tech-savvy friend Gil about which brands other than Dell I should consider. I was really down on Dell after some poor customer service experiences and was ready for a change. But then Gil made a good point. “You know,” he said, “your last Dell computer lasted you nine years.”

And he was absolutely right. Sure, it took some of Gil’s magic to extend its life—cleaning out viruses more than once, adding new virus protection, and installing new memory—but a nine-year shelf life for a PC is unheard of. Not long after that conversation, I bought another Dell. (FYI I still think the customer service stinks, but the computer works fine.)

But if I called the CEO of Dell and told him that story, he might not be thrilled. After all, between 2001 and 2008, I didn’t buy a single Dell product.

Now imagine if Dell called me up in 2002 and said, “Mr. Calise, our records show your Dell Dimension is two years old. We’d like to buy it back from you. Oh and by the way, Dell now has several new PC models you may be interested in if you’re looking to upgrade.” Well, that seems to be the direction Patagonia (with the help of eBay) is headed in:

It sounds strange to say that encouraging customers to buy less new apparel could actually lead to increased sales volume for Patagonia. Yet this scenario is possible. Two types of customers could be more inclined to buy new Patagonia apparel as a result of Patagonia’s efforts: customers who make decisions based on sustainability considerations and customers who can now sell their used Patagonia apparel for cash to buy new apparel. Indeed, John Donahue, the CEO of Patagonia’s new business partner, eBay, suggested this might be possible: “Patagonia is extending its customer base and increasing it. People who are selling it are likely to turn around, take the money they got, and buy the new Patagonia products.”

For the record, I’ve never bought or owned a Patagonia product. But by encouraging me to Buy Less, Patagonia might actually persuade me to Buy More.

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