I taught myself how to swing a baseball bat on our small farm in rural Southern Indiana. I'd toss the ball in the air and take my cut with a splintery bat wrapped in electrical tape that I'd bought at a flea market. Our front yard was bigger than any ball park, so I had ambitions to hit the paved road.
It was a long time before that happened. I thought it was the bat. A shiny aluminum bat or a new Louisville Slugger - which they once manufactured less than five miles from my house - would make all the difference. The right bat and I'd knock it out of the park. Or farm.
It wasn't until I got into Little League that I learned why my batting stunk.
I was holding it wrong. I'm R/R on the Pitch/Bat Jumbotron profile, and as a 7-year-old, I didn't know my left hand needed to be at the hilt of the bat. I'd been swinging with my right hand at the hilt, basically twisting my body into a pretzel.
Once my coach taught me the right way to grip the bat, it took a year to re-learn my swing. But once that became natural, back on the farm, I started hitting the asphalt. My father rewarded my home runs in Little League with banana splits from Dairy Queen. He still owes me.
It was not the bat. It was poor execution.
As a media executive, I have been reminded of this lesson daily. The allure of the new bat is universal. It's the shiny object. The savior. That new (platform, widget, multimedia, VR, AR, Super Bass-O-Matic '76) that's going to transform the company.
It won't. Not if your swing stinks. And too often, that's the case.
Clayton Christensen's 1997 book, "The Innovator's Dilemma" came at a perfect time for local media. Newspaper and television companies were launching websites. Barriers to entry for much of their business model were falling, and some would be wiped out completely. The book became a bible - and deservedly. I'm in the camp that agrees with the assessment that it's one of the most important business books of the 21st Century.
Several media companies launched Innovation Funds. I oversaw the management of one when I joined E.W. Scripps in 2008. It had funded a lot of ideation, brainstorming throughout the company, some niche websites - Mommy sites were the new black - but showed no signs of launching sustainable, disruptive businesses. So I shut it down.
Instead, we focused on the basics of sales and execution. And Scripps went from 9th place in digital sales compared to peer companies in the Yahoo! Newspaper Consortium to consistently on the gold-silver-bronze dais. Because we relearned how to grip a bat.
The biggest hurdle for local media companies isn't Facebook or Google or Amazon or Apple. It's their ability to execute. There is no shortage of new opportunities, platforms or digital products. There is a shortage of bandwidth.
If we could work together - with each other and with the major platforms - to increase our ability to execute, that would be something worth funding. That would be our Manhattan Project. Not a vision quest for the Next Big Thing, but a means - a path - to move forward. To more effectively move from signing a contract with a new vendor to taking it to market. To create shared baselines and dashboards for performance. To strip it to the studs and build it anew.
Let's work on our swing. You can keep the bat.