Tom Friedman Is Shaping How I’m Thinking About Opening Day

My team was the toast of the sport only 18 months ago. Last season’s opening day saw them win a nationally televised game, giving license to the fan base to prolong our October chest-thumping.

It didn’t last. Injuries. Regression to the mean. The existence of other players and executives who care just as much and play just as hard. You know, sports. They finished exactly .500 for the season and missed the playoffs.

This opening day finds them projected to finish third in their division. Clutch players from their World Series victory are gone. Worst of all, four of the team’s turnaround centerpieces are in their final contract years. This is it for them. This is it for my team as I’ve come to love it.

And everybody knows it.

My expectations are low. I’m going to watch and listen and read and cheer and hope–but I don’t expect glory. And that’s okay.

Conquering the mountain as the scrappy upstart who finds a path to success that others missed is awfully fun. But you can only do that once. Then the challenge becomes keeping your footing as competitors find other paths to the top and as the mountain itself shifts beneath you. For everybody in the enterprise, that demands a different set of skills.

I started listening to Tom Friedman’s new book yesterday, the central thesis of which is that, not only is technological, environmental, and economic change multiplying at heretofore unknown rates, but the pace of that change is itself multiplying in dizzying ways. This assertion sums it up: by the time governments figure out how to regulate ride sharing services, self-driving cars will be urgently demanding attention.

Sports embody this change process. Friedman has a whole chapter on sensors and data analytics as things that are dramatically accelerating change in everything from trash collection to dairy farming. And sports. We’ve come a long way since Moneyball, but the data analytic revolution it sparked has made its mark on sports for good. In contemporary sports, if you’re not fiendishly gathering and analyzing data in creative ways, you’re not winning.

Sports helps me think about the change happening in the world and how to be part of it, rather than knocked over or left behind by it. My hope this opening day is that my team has changed with sufficient intention and novelty to make this season compelling, and that I’m doing that too.

Play ball.

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