November 3, 2009

What we can learn about strategy from General George S. Patton and the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Philadelphia Phillies - an example of great strategy!

The Philadelphia Phillies - an example of great strategy!

It’s one of my favorite performances: George C. Scott as General George S. Patton. Love the attitude. But, most of all, I relate to what Patton was all about. This is a guy who knew what he had to do. He wasn’t popular because of it. He knew a thing or two about strategy. In one situation, when interrogating a German office, he wouldn’t give the guy the satisfaction of speaking to him in German — even though Patton spoke the language fluently. Strategy in action! The quote I remember most says it all, when Patton articulated what it would take to stymie the Nazi rampage — “First, you have to have a plan.”

Flash-forward about 80 years. A battle of a different sort — this time on the baseball field. The Philadelphia Phillies become contenders for the National League pennant and the World Series — not once, but twice. The first time, nobody saw them coming. Like Patton, these guys don’t leave anything to chance. Pitching rotations. Batter and pitcher matchups. Right down to who can be tempted with a high-pitch fastball for an easy out. They grasped the concept of having a plan. They’ve put together a formula to win.

Is it that easy? Hell, no. If it were, everyone would be winning World Series games and beating the crap out of bullies en masse. The truth is, there is no way to just luck into success. It takes a strategy to get you there.

For some people, that’s a hard lesson to learn. But the first time someone asks you, “Why are you doing that?” you get it. You’re forced to think about what you’re trying to accomplish and how. It may seem simple. But it’s the golden rule of strategy. Whatever project you have on your desk, ask yourself at least one question: “Why am I doing this?”

Oh, and as for Patton — he won. But you know that. And we’ll see about the second World Series crown for the Phils. But my guess is, since they have a plan, they’ve got a better-than-average shot to win the whole thing again.