Friday, March 30, 2012

Bunting For Singles

I played my fair share of baseball as a child, but I am not a big fan.  Each spring, as many of my friends get excited about spring training, I am left scratching my head.  That said, I have a few interests that may perplex others, so I am not judging.  Though not a baseball fan, I am a fan of sports analogies and an even bigger fan of getting stuff done.  While reading The Accidental Creative, I came across a baseball  analogy that struck a chord with me, the concept of "bunting for singles".

Those of us familiar with baseball are well aware that there are scenarios where bunting for a single is the right call.  Though, the idea of giving one batter after the next the bunt sign, or asking the same batter to bunt at each at bat, makes absolutely no sense (even if it is coach pitch, and that's another post altogether).  At the same time, a batter who decides to take the bat out of his own hands despite coach's direction is disheartening.  As a young Sailor, there were many times when I would come up to the plate knowing that all I wanted to do was make contact (i.e. not make a mistake) and would square to bunt.  I wasn't worried about making ground, my objective was merely to not lose any.  I did not have confidence in my ability to swing away and therefore rarely did.  With that approach, my swing never got better and my batting average was dismal.  But, I made contact and, at the time, that was good enough for me, as I wasted growth opportunity after growth opportunity.

Fortunately, I reached a point where I became less concerned about making contact and more interested in learning to hit the ball beyond the infield.  I also made it a point to spend time with people who took pride in their swing and were committed to not bunt unless specifically directed to do so (and even then tried to convince "the coach" otherwise).  The concept of "bunting for singles" quickly became foreign to me and my batting average slowly went up and the pace of progress across the team increased.

As a leader, I refuse to give any member of our team the bunt sign.  In fact, I become extremely disappointed when I see a Shipmate square to bunt.  Don't get me wrong, I understand the tendency to be more concerned with not losing than being interested in winning, but the sooner in life we get over it, the more likely we are to reach our potential.  I'd rather go down swinging away (and watch others do the same) than fouling off bunt attempts or even outrunning the throw to first base.

Swing hard, swing often - bunting leads us toward mediocrity (at best)...   


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  2. I know that work-life balance is important to you, otherwise I wouldn't bring this up:

    Often, we are left with the unfortunate choice to put effort into our home lives, or our work lives. From time to time, we have to bunt in one area, otherwise we may risk shorting the other one at a moment of crisis/risk.

    When I was a young, single JO, the concept of bunting at work was anathema to me. With 2 young children, I can absolutely imagine stepping away from a high-stress, high-payoff work "opportunity" in order to spend more time with them.

    I would argue that you have to know when to walk away from the brass ring, in order to maximize other parts of your life that may be more important.

    There are good reasons for a young sailor, or an old leader, to occasionally choose to bunt. A more important question to ask: how can you tell when someone is selling themselves short - or when they're rationally taking care of something else that is more important to them at the time.

  3. Actually, I don't like the term work-life balance at all. See for amplification. If our work and our life are opposing forces, it's time to find new work or get a new life.

    I was using bunting as a metaphor doing one or more of those things. The points you bring up are valid and relevant to the thread covered in the link above, but I fail to see the linkage between bunting and work-play alignment (my term). If you are merely going through the motions, marking time, or afraid to put yourself out there (too many of us are), I say it's time to move.

  4. (Sorry about forgetting the work-play analogy - I really liked that post but forgot one of the key points about it - the way you reframed the discussion)

    I think that sometimes it's hard, as a leader, to tell the reason behind someone choosing to mark time or go-through-the-motions. Some people are avoiding a challenge because there's another challenge elsewhere in their life that's consuming their passion and/or energy. Some people are avoiding a challenge because they're scared, uncertain, uninterested.

    I love hacking and tinkering with malware, and I've chosen work that allows me to do this (work is play), but if I go to work for a challenging, high-energy start-up that's focused on the more cutting edge aspects of this field, or accept a higher-level leadership position, I'll probably spend 60-80 glorious, very fun hours per week doing that more challenging work for 3-5 years, growing incredibly in skill, connections, and capacity, shortly before my wife divorces me and I realize that I've missed watching my kids grow-up.

    One could argue that I've chosen to bunt at work by choosing to play in a 40-50 hour/week job that's not particularly bleeding edge, in a non-leadership position, because I enjoy the heck out of the free time I spend with my wife and kids. But I know that I'm focused on something that's more important right now, and will eventually jump on something more challenging.

    I remember plenty of times where I have been in leadership positions, where people have backed off of a challenge, and when I push to find out why they're not achieving their potential, I find out that they're committing their passion elsewhere, or focused on fixing something broken in another part of their life. They may love the work they're doing, but they know that they need to take care of something else for the time being.

    Bottom line: I think it's important to know when it's OK to let people take the easier path. People mature and grow in measured stages, and sometimes they grow best if they're allowed to take a pause in one area of life, in order to focus on another.

    Bottom-line, sports metaphor version: Sometimes allowing a little leaguer to bunt a few times helps keep that player in the game while they work on another part of their life (academics, social life, family), so that they can come back with renewed energy when they're ready.

  5. Great analogy... I've read almost all of your blog and have learned so much. Thank you and keep them coming!!!

  6. Great analogy Sean.. I love reading these blogs.. The other metaphor I hate is taking the first pitch.. So many opportunities in life and sport pass you by.. and 9 times out of 10 that pitch was right down the middle and now you are in the hole... Keep writing brother.. I love it..

    Tim Long

  7. Well stated Hexsaw, I understand and concur with your message. Thanks for sharing.

    Zachary - Thanks for the feedback. I'm learning just as much through writing. Funny how that facilitates thoughtful reflection...where is your blog?

    Tim - I appreciate the kind words and will give that "First Pitch" idea some more thought. I know I have watched a few pitches that were I didn't realize were in my wheelhouse until they landed in the catcher's mitt. Another good one is "The Backwards K", bringing me back to our PNLL days.