Over this past week of travel for work, I finished up two books that at first glance are in separate veins: Drive by Daniel Pink, and The MVP Machine by Travis Sawchik and Ben Lindbergh. Yet both of these books talk about an essential aspect of life that I feel is summed up well by this quote from Pink:
“Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.”
Drive can be summarized as telling the story of how humans deserve more credit than we are often given credit for: how workplace culture has stunted our capacity for creativity, growth, and overall enjoyment of life. We have made work work, and separated it from life. What if we could do more to integrate the two?
The MVP Machine is about how baseball teams are doing more individual player development than ever before, expanding upon the so-called Moneyball revolution of the early 2000s, and challenging many long-standing baseball traditions and assumptions in the process. In doing so, they bring up the work of behavioral science pioneers Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman as well as K. Anders Ericsson work studying deliberate practice.
Both books point to the idea that you are not born with certain traits and you stop learning at some set, immovable point. Carol Dweck’s work on fixed and growth mindsets are featured prominently in both books, with Pink pointing out that “Fixed mindsets see every encounter as a test of their worthiness. Growth mindsets see the same encounters as opportunities to improve.” and MVP Machine noting that these books are now required reading in Major League Baseball front offices and have become part of player and front office staff evaluation.
In our work lives, we often attain certain levels of success based on the education we have received or perhaps early career promotions and accolades. How we react at that point can make all the difference. In the MVP Machine, one of the main case studies is Trevor Bauer and his work with Kyle Boddy at Driveline Sports. Driveline Sports is on the outside a small warehouse in Seattle. On the inside though – it is transforming baseball players in unthinkable ways from not even a decade before. Bauer was already a successful major league baseball pitcher – which only a small percentage of people can claim to be.
He wasn’t done there. His drive pushed him farther.
So he made up a pitch. Literally. He scoured videos using next-generation cameras and sensors that can measure everything about a pitch including how fast it spins, how much pressure is coming from each fingertip to control and change the flight of the pitch. He wanted a slider, so he helped himself invent one of the best.
“Pink describes that striving for the extra this way: “Greatness and nearsightedness are incompatible. Meaningful achievement depends on lifting one’s sights and pushing toward the horizon.”
“We cannot be satisfied by saying “Do Better”, “Throw Harder”, “Work Smarter” and “Be More Accurate”. These can – and should be- measured and focused on to get better to provide clear direction and not just wishful thinking. Both books provide tools and resources to quantify the intangible and help improve all aspects of your life. Sports – and with a large personal bias towards baseball – have always been a prism about our greater world and personal lives and that tradition continues in The MVP Machine.
It is easier to criticize the old line baseball scouts than to directly point out our own personal inefficiencies in how we live our lives. We can laugh today about the old scouts that laugh at Jose Altuve and Dustin Pedroia because they don’t have “baseball bodies”, but ignore our own shortcomings when we tell ourselves that we would be good in sales because we are “good at talking to people”. Pink takes aim at a business machine that discourages personal autonomy and freedom and seeks to lead us to the business world where our innate drive is allowed the freedom to wander and explore.
In conclusion, I enjoyed reading both of these books. It made me think about what I do in my own life that I simply do because I’ve always done it. Where can I challenge myself? In my work? In how and when I work out? In my relationships with others? If you aren’t a baseball fan, you might find yourself skimming over sections of The MVP Machine that as a baseball nerd I loved, but seeing how a centuries-old sport can evolve and change might just be a lesson for us all to learn from.