First, there’s the Google rule. To understand the men and women in charge of rebuilding the Houston Astros, indeed to understand the unique path the franchise has headed down, this is a good place to begin.
“We encourage our people to spend 10 percent of their time pursuing whatever project they want as long as it’s baseball-related,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said.
Got that? One of Luhnow’s first hires—a guy with multiple advanced degrees in engineering, a guy who does not have a typical baseball background—stole the idea from, you guessed it, Google.
Luhnow has a lot of very smart people on his staff. Actually, they are people a lot like himself. They are creative and ambitious, and he believes they must constantly be challenged. But they must also be encouraged to think outside the box.
“Think about any harebrained idea you have, any research you’d like to do,” he said. “It’s free time to learn about the game and try and come up with new ideas.”
...There’s also a larger philosophy at play with the Google rule. It’s a way to empower employees, and it doesn’t stop with the front-office executives.
“One of the best ways of innovating—and again, this is another management-consultant strategy—is you talk to people inside your own organization,” Luhnow said. “You get ideas to bubble up from the bottom. People that are on the front line, whether it’s an automobile manufacturer line worker or the accounting guy that does the numbers, you actually communicate with them and you draw stuff out of them.
“For every five ideas you get, maybe only one is worth pursuing. But for every five that are worth pursuing, there’s one worth doing that adds value. If you sit in this office and
try to figure everything out, you might come up with some good ideas, but the good ideas are out there. It’s the hitting coach in Single-A. Oftentimes he’ll tell you, ‘Why are we practicing this instead of this? Why can’t we have equipment to help us do this better?’ Those are the types of things that can really help you. When you talk about an analytical-based approach, it’s really a logic-based approach. And it applies to every element of the game.”