The professional baseball impresario Mike Veeck wrote what he called a “sports book with silly stories” more than 10 years ago called “Fun is Good.” He found that he’d accidentally written a business book.
He decided he had more to say about business, and this time he was going to pitch it right at business readers.
One of his observations is that business managers have become so afraid to fail that they think their job is to avoid risk, rather than manage risk. Then nothing good happens.
Some advice is to figure out the conventional thinking and then do the opposite. This probably explains the title of this sensible new book, as he and co-author Allen Fahden called it “Another Boring, Derivative, Piece of Crap Business Book.”
This is about the most unusual business book ever, of course, as one would expect from a co-author known here for the whimsical or offbeat promotional events he’s launched for the St. Paul Saints baseball club.
For starters, the book has a Chapter 0 but no introduction because, the authors assert, nobody ever reads a book’s introduction.
They also decided most people only read the first chapter, so they decided to put everything worth learning in Chapter 1. The remaining 50 chapters just tell fun stories that illustrate the lessons of Chapter 1.
A good example is reminding business people that an idea could flop, but it’s just as likely to turn out better than anyone could have hoped. So plunge ahead. And see Chapter 23 for the funny story.
That one comes from when Veeck worked for the Detroit Tigers and the team had started the season by losing 18 of its first 19 games.
An American Indian tribal official wrote to him and helpfully volunteered to do an exorcism, as the Tigers’ stadium seems to have been built on ancient Indian burial grounds.
This sounded like a great idea to Veeck, but the team president heard of it and told Veeck absolutely not.
Veeck solved the problem by leaving town — having arranged to leave a gate open at the ballpark.
When the tribe showed up, the next-door Detroit Lions happened to be unveiling new uniforms in front of the region’s assembled sports reporters. And they couldn’t help but notice that an Indian ceremony seemed to be taking place around the pitching mound where the Tigers play.
Veeck soon found out he’d blundered yet again, but the tribal official assured him that the tribe had the treaty right to kill any media coverage of a religious ceremony. So relax.
And, Veeck added, the Tigers then won some games.
Veeck gives a lot of credit for the thinking in the book to Fahden, a speaker, author and consultant.
Veeck has adopted Fahden’s concept of making sure an innovation team has people in the right roles, including at the Charleston RiverDogs baseball club in South Carolina. It has a great marketing team, Veeck said, but after a two-year dry spell they took Fahden’s test and found out they had plenty of idea people but no advancers, the person who takes an idea and shapes it before handing it off.
These are the same marketers, by the way, who came up with the idea of giving away one free vasectomy to a lucky fan who attended an upcoming game on Father’s Day. You can imagine the uproar. This promotion was promptly canceled.
This was too good a story to leave out of his book. The lesson of Chapter 6? Give up on the idea of always using good judgment. All of your competitors are trying to use their best judgment, too, and if there’s one thing to never try, it’s what’s being done by everyone else.
This book is full of examples of that kind of thinking, like a baseball promotion called Nobody Night. The attendance record for professional sports was out of reach at such a small venue. Why not go for the record for fewest fans? How about zero?
Another example is the creation of CHS Field, the Saints’ second-year home in St. Paul.
As plans for a new ballpark were taking shape, Veeck said, he was told repeatedly, from fans and downtown neighbors to his own staff, that the design of the new stadium had sure better match the 100-year-old-plus brick construction of the adjacent Lowertown warehouses.
Veeck said he had no enthusiasm for building a massive brick stadium. He thought it would be so much better in this small, historic neighborhood if no one really noticed that there was a professional baseball park standing there at all.
As he described it, he told architect Julie Snow to make it hard to tell where the St. Paul Farmers Market stopped and the ballpark started. Walking in downtown St. Paul last week, he said, he couldn’t see the stadium from two blocks away.
“That building has humility,” he said of CHS Field. “It says please come in, and this is yours.”
His enthusiasm for what he’s got planned for the Saints this season bubbled up in our conversation, too. It included a promotion called Angry Birds night.
It’s an idea so silly it’s certain to be a monster success, he said. He thought of it as soon as he first learned of a controversy arising during the construction of U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis and the risk of birds hitting the glass in the stadium.
“We were a little timid last year,” he said, “but we’re coming out with guns blazing this year.”
What’s interesting is that Veeck didn’t just talk about new ideas. He talked of traditional practices that have become so unfashionable that they’ve become as effective now as any innovation. As an example he pulled from his bag the handwritten thank-you notes he was sending to St. Paul Saints season ticket buyers.
He can write 35 an hour and still have them be legible and personal, he said, using the time he spends on airliners. He described his most recent seat companion on a flight, an executive with all the electronic gadgets of the fashionable business traveler, as plainly baffled by his note writing.
The executive admitted he couldn’t remember the last handwritten note he’d received but also didn’t write them himself. He didn’t have the time.
“They’re the reason 25 years later we’re still in business,” Veeck said. “It’s worth at least that amount of time to me to say thank you.”