Sunday, April 29, 2012

Baseball and ...Complex Systems Analysis?

Yes, I will admit it, I was getting my hair cut.  Which, if you think about, is pretty absurd in itself - that someone with as little hair as I have on my head would be bothering to get it cut.

At any rate, the person who cuts my hair was telling me how baseball-averse she was:  how her husband had insisted on taking her to a game (once), how bored she had been, how she had never been willing to watch another game...

...and it got me thinking about how much of what happens in a baseball game is not physically visible (although, to players, or former players, it may all seem palpable) so that while the visible action on the field may appear to be limited to the pitcher and batter, at any particular moment, there is so much more going on.

If you have played, or perhaps simply become a serious fan, you know what I'm getting at:  that at any given moment, there are multiple "systems" in play:
  • Between the pitcher and the catcher
  • Among the infielders
  • Among the outfielders
  • Among the manager, coaches, the batter and base runners
  • Among the manager, the pitching coach, and bullpen coach
Those are just the "simple" systems.  Then there are the signals between the systems - infielders and outfielders, catcher and infielders, manager and fielders...parallel systems, at different points, in particular situations, that intersect....

And those are just the covert communications among team members.  Add in attempts to steal opponent's signs, detect patterns, pre-empt tactics...

While former players spot the "gloves in front of faces" of infielders, and the series of gestures of the first- and third-base coaches, not much of this is terribly obvious to the uninitiated.

So the more I thought about it, the more I was struck by the analogy to systems thinking in an organizational environment:  the contrast between official, visible communications channels, and all of the informal channels, supported by friendships and networks of unofficial allegiances; the ways in which some of these channels intersect, or provide counterpoints...  I began to picture the "systems archetypes" at play in the organization ("limits to growth," "shifting the burden") and look for counterparts on the baseball field.  I began to think about the role of the manager in this light...

...and then, as suddenly as it began, my reverie stopped.  My haircut was complete, and my stylist still had no interest in watching a baseball game.  I, however, knew the punchline:  there's got to be a blogpost in here somewhere.

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