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Book Value: The Mental ABC's of Pitching

by John Shook
November 5, 2013

Book Value: The Mental ABC's of Pitching

by John Shook
November 5, 2013 | Comments (7)

With the Red Sox of my newly adopted hometown Boston having just won the World Series (after beating my beloved Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship... congratulations Red Sox, the best team won!), I can't help but crack open The Mental ABC's of Pitching by H.A. Dorfman, especially after watching another season of hapless mid-relief pitching by my Tigers.

Here’s a wonderful, simple book that goes through the English alphabet presenting a key word for each letter. Dorfman writes about a wide range of practices and beliefs, ranging from Breathing to Goals to Mantra to Umpires. The book is simple, but also unpredictable. Dorfman references Chekhov's “Man is what he believes” idea (when stressing the need for pitchers to understand what they think of themselves) on one page and on the next, offers advice on how to regroup from giving up a big inning.

Here are several entries that relate directly and beautifully to specific lean concepts. Be sure to read them all, but I’ll introduce just three here, starting with A for "Adjustment".

Lean Thinking and Acting

As you know, much, if not most, if not all of Lean is essentially a matter of seeking in all that we do a means of realizing P-D-C-A. Deming's elegant model is another of the many "deceptively simple" dynamics of lean thinking and acting. The A stands of course for "Act". Lately, many of us add the coloration of "adjust" to explain what happens in the "A" dimension of the cycle. The idea here is that, based on the trial (Do) that you put into play based on your hypothesis (Plan), you must have (should have, anyway) learned something. After all, nothing ever goes exactly according to plan. That, in fact, is an assumption of lean thinking: "no problem is a problem!" So, based on your "Check" of the results of your trial, you will invariably need to make some adjustment. Following that adjustment should come standardization. With the new standard now in place, you begin the process all over again. And again. Dorfman's explanation of "A for Adjustment" is beautiful in its simplicity and powerful in its implications:

"To make an adjustment is to make a change, an adaptation. In the context of baseball, it presumes a thoughtful, rational assessment of A) what the pitcher was trying to do, B) what went wrong, C) what he must do to fix it."

Changing Your Habits

Here's another perfect lean fit from The Mental ABC's of Pitching: “Habits.” The more a pitcher can develop routines, the more confidence he can have in his preparedness. He will feel a greater sense of control and focus. His routines are formed through choice and consistent expression of the behaviors he understands will serve him well. These routines are the focus of his attention and help him to 'stay in' good habits, so he does not have to concern himself with 'getting out' of bad ones. The habits are developed in relation to directed tasks."

Deciding to Learn

And lastly, there's "Learning" in which Dorfman quotes no less a lean source than Henry Ford: "Simply stated, the best pitchers are the best learners. Whereas just about everyone in baseball gives and receives advice, the best learners are eager listeners. They know how to evaluate what they hear, and then how to integrate the appropriate advice into behavior. The best learners know that failure, as Henry Ford put it, 'is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.' The best learners instinctively recognize that experience by itself is valueless. What one does with it gives it value."

So the 2013 baseball season is over. Next year will be here before we know it (and my Tigers will have another opportunity). May the best team win, again. Will the team that wins be the one that practices the best PDCA? Will my Tigers finally Adjust and strengthen their bullpen?

In what sport do you find the most interesting and useful analogies to PDCA?

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  books,  mindfulness
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7 Comments | Post a Comment
Alice Lee November 05, 2013
1 Person AGREES with this comment
Thank you, John, for sharing a book that may not have crossed my path otherwise. I am looking forward to reading the entire book through the lens you describe! All my best, Alice

Reply »

John Shook November 12, 2013
And congratulations to your (Alice's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is the official team hospital) Red Sox. The best team won. Wait til next year.

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Danielle McGuiness November 06, 2013
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick is notorious for thinking in PDCA cycles, with one of his famous quotes being “We just work our process between now and Saturday.  And then see if we get the results we want on Sunday.”

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John Shook November 12, 2013
Yes, but can't he go about his process (yes, looks like pretty good pdca...) in a little more cheerful manner?!

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Chip James November 08, 2013
Wow, talk about timely. Cleaned out my office this week but this book now needs to be saved from the "giveaway" stack. Haven't read it in years (my baseball-playing son wrapped up his college career 2 yrs ago and hasn't pitched in over 6 yrs) but time to give it another look with a new perspective. Thanks!

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John Shook November 12, 2013
Glad I helped save it from the recycle bin, Chip, though there's nothing wrong with reading and then passing on a good book. I'll be curious to hear what you think of it - John

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Mark Donovan February 22, 2014
John - I think there are PDCA cycles deeply engrained in the skiers at the Olympics.  Each turn starts with a plan.  Angulation, rotation, modulation.  Then they rip it.  Next they analyze where they ended up vs. where they expected to be.  Finally they adjust, recalibrate and repeat.  Those are some fast PDCA cycles.

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