The first North American ad agency – 1842.
The first staffing recruitment firm – 1895.
Thomas Cook founded the first commercial travel agency in 1846.
The first real estate agency in North America bootstraps itself up in 1855.
The parallels between America’s great pastime and some brokering industries that have been around for a similarly long time are very interesting.
They all have an ethos, code and practices that are now going on 150 years and candidly, they are showing their age. As the quote above mentions “they don’t know the game (at least anymore) that they have been playing their entire life.”
As much as baseball has ceded it’s place to football as America’s most popular sport, so these brokering industries have started to cede their place to internet-based ventures that have become more efficient, more effective, quicker and simpler to deal with it at the low and middle ends (I’m convinced most industries will always have a place for providers that do great work at the top end). Their industries have or are starting to dis-intermediate the mediator.
Whereas baseball could have quickened up its games, incorporated automated umpiring, built a better more immersive fan experience and created a more equitable and competitive marketplace for talent, these brokers above could have reinvented themselves before marching down the road to obsolescence.
Ad agencies could have become true senior-level partners with their clients. They didn’t. And a raft of new boutique agencies, crowdsourcing entities, technology companies and management consultancies have filled the void. Travel agencies could have built proprietary bespoke vacations without the B.S. for their clients. They didn’t. Enter Tripadvisor and Expedia. Realtors could have become the valued partners and fountains of deep experience for their clients. They didn’t. Enter firms like EListIt, Zillow and Trulia that aspire to bridge the value that people aren’t getting from their realtor or multiple listing service. HR executive placement firms got greedy and lazy – enter Monster, LinkedIn and a raft of social recruitment activities. This isn’t particularly evil or concerning, after 150 years, these other industries got staid and relaxed and consumers have decided to turn a page on how they spend their hard-earned money.
As much as I loved the movie Moneyball and my deep love of the game and the statistics that govern it, it really isn’t a movie about baseball or stat junkies or even Oakland As fans. It’s a metaphor for life and industry. It’s how the true progress advocates and positive change agents can read a universe in an entirely different way than their counterparts and develop something so brilliantly different and designed for success.
When asked about using Moneyball statistics, the assistant GM played by Jonah Hill sums it up really well “There is an epidemic failure in their game to understand what is really happening. Baseball thinking is medieval, they are asking all the wrong questions…Using stats to reread them, we’ll find the value of players that nobody else can see. Because everyone else in baseball under values them. Like an island of misfit toys.” Baseball isn’t the only industry that is medieval in its thinking.