Image courtesy of FistfulofTalent. Image courtesy of FistfulofTalent.

By Major Matt Cavanaugh

I recently grabbed an old Sports Illustrated (June 23, 2014), and read an Albert Chen story (“Business As Usual”) about the Oakland Athletics.  Yes, as the image above would signify, I’m a bit jaded about all the lessons that can be drawn from Billy Beane and the Moneyball approach (*though I still love everything that author Michael Lewis puts on paper).  But I like the concept I bumped into – enough to mention it here.

It’s a player’s “residual,” described as “the difference between how the A’s perceive a player and how they think the industry perceives that player.” (p.60)  For me, this is an interesting concept because of the way it plays out in my organization, the U.S. Army.  I think there are two applicable “residuals” at work: the first is the gap between the “Big Army’s” view of an individual versus the local unit’s appraisal.  Or, put another way, what the larger organization values and what your immediate command appreciates. The second is the difference between how the “Big Army” or the local command sees an individual – and that individual’s true value.

As far as the latter goes, I think the Army could do better at the metrics associated with how it measures talent. This is especially true with respect to creativity.  In Foreign Affairs, Erik Brynjolfsson and two co-authors recently wrote on this trait with respect to the jobs of the future: “People with ideas, not workers or investors, will be the scarcest resource.”  So creativity matters.

Actually, this is where I think my “residual” lies.  Creativity is the characteristic I’m most proud of.  Please pardon a bit of what is to come – it may seem like bragging – but it helps to list some accomplishments out to fully illustrate the point. Here goes: I created and co-developed a successful fundraising program for the Wounded Warrior Project; I planned and organized a physical fitness and dietary plan for my brother to drop from 350 to 190 pounds (he is now an Army medic at Fort Drum); I recently founded and arranged funding for an officially-endorsed Yoga Club at West Point; academically, in the past year I’ve driven the development of a new course as well as a case study on Afghanistan (and, of course, there’s this blog and the associated War Council events). 

In short, the thing I think I’m best at, that others consider critically important to the future, goes without Army evaluation.  Even if not directly, all these activities provide value to the Army. The hardest part is probably measuring and recording them – it would be immensely difficult to weigh and compare such a non-standard, diverse set of data points. 

So what is your residual?