If You've Got (G)Love

by Matthew Stollak on Friday, January 13, 2012

A new feature on True Faith HR for 2011: Your Pop Culture HR Friday moment.  Each Friday, I will find something of interest from recent books, TV, music, or movies and discuss the HR implications.

The well-reviewed and worth your time reading 2011 book, The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach tells the story of one Henry Skrimshander, a high school shortstop in a small Illinois town.  While mediocre as a hitter, Henry is a prodigy on defense, striking the interest of Mike Schwartz, the catcher at a small Northeastern Wisconsin liberal arts college (hmmm....sounds vaguely familiar) called Westish, who recruits him to play Division III baseball.

Henry ascribes much of his success to his beat up copy of Hall of Fame shortshop Aparicio Rodriguez's The Art of Fielding, a collection of aphorisms that are just as much a guide to life, as it is to being a good baseball player.  Such aphorisms include:

26.  The shortstop is a source of stillness at the center of the defense.  He projects this stillness and his teammates respond.
59.  To field a ground ball must be considered a generous act and an act of comprehension.  One moves not against the ball but with it.  Bad fielders stab at the ball like an enemy.  This is antagonism.  The true fielder lets the path of the ball becomes his own path, thereby comprehending the ball and dissipating the self, which is the source of all suffering and poor defense.
3.  There are three stages: Thoughtless being.  Thought.  Return to thoughtless being.
33.  Do not confuse the first and third stages.  Thoughtless being is attained by everyone, the return to thoughtless being by a very few.
213.  Death is the sanction of all that the athlete does.
99.  To reach a ball he has never reached before, to extend himself to the very limits of his range, and then a step farther: this is the shortstop's dream.
121.  The shortstop has worked to hard for so long that he no longer thinks.  Nor does he act.  By this I mean that he does not generate action.  He only reacts, the way a mirror reacts when you wave your hand before it.

Once at Westish, Henry rises from benchwarmer to star shortshop, attracting major league scouts to the ballpark to watch him play.  Soon, he is threatening to break the record of 52 straight errorless games owned by Rodriguez himself.   On the 53rd game, Henry makes an errant throw that strikes his roommate in the face.  Like his predecessors -  Steve Blass, a Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher in the 1970s who, inexplicably, finds himself unable to throw the ball over the plate, and Mackey Sasser, the Mets catcher who developed a paralyzing fear of throwing the ball back to the pitcher, Steve Sax, Chuck Knoblauch - Henry soon fines he is no longer able to throw the ball to first.

Implications for HR
1.  Like #26, is the HR manager a source of stillness at the center of the business?  Does he or she project this stillness and the employees respond?
2.  How often do you encounter performance anxiety at work, and how do you handle those employee problems?  Do you have a book of aphorisms to fall back on like Henry does?
3.  Like #99, can you get your employees to go beyond their limits.  Do employees see this better performance as their dream?
4.  One of the most telling quotes of the book is when Harbach writes about how to make a ball player; how does one get brute efficiency out of natural genius:

Baseball was an art, but to excel at it you had to become a machine.  It didn't matter how beautifully you performed sometimes, what you did on your best day, how many spectacular plays you made.   You weren't a painter or writer - you didn't work in private and discard your mistakes, and it wasn't  just your masterpieces that counted.  What mattered, as for any machine, was repeatability.  Moments of inspiration were nothing compared to elimination of error.   The scouts cared little for Henry's superhuman grace; insofar as they cared they suckered-in aesthetes and shitty scouts.  Can you perform on demand, like a car, a furnace, a gun?  Can you make that throw one hundred times out of a hundred?  If it can't be a hundred, it had better be ninety-nine.
How often do we expect our employees to be robots?  Do we look for the art in what they do?  Are there mistakes made public for all to see?  "What other sport not only kept a stat as cruel as the error but posted it on the scoreboard for everyone to see?"

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