Tradition, Innovation and Balance


By Ron Knecht and Geoffrey Lawrence

We’ve striven all our lives to embrace positive change.

But we each do so in our own ways. Young Geoff has always been an early adopter of new technologies. Boomer Ron says he’s “a real Twentieth Century guy,” and prefers to see that new technologies are viable and enjoy widespread adoption before jumping on board.

Sometimes, our differing approaches can complicate matters, such as when Ron suggested Geoff should really study The Godfather trilogy more closely and offered to lend Geoff his VHS tapes. Geoff explained it’s been nearly two decades since he owned a device that played such tapes, but said he will purchase access to those films via a digital streaming service.

On another occasion, Ron viewed the ease with which Geoff navigated airport security using a digital image of his boarding pass displayed on his smartphone. Ron decided this approach was indeed superior to printing out a paper copy. So he adopted the smartphone approach.

In a recent column, we detailed the great increase in productivity Ron experienced early in his career when computerized spreadsheet applications were developed to replace the old ledger paper computations Ron and his team had done manually. Back then, Ron eagerly adopted the new technology.

All these examples highlight a constant tension in our lives: What is the balance one should strike between respect for tradition and the thirst for innovation?

On one hand, the social, political, legal, and technological traditions we inherited are what let Americans become the most prosperous large population ever to walk the earth. On the other, all human progress is driven especially by two factors: innovation and the accumulation of capital.

There is no single right answer to this problem in all areas, of course. Individuals embrace change at their own pace as they perceive the benefits available from innovation to exceed the costs of adoption.

We believe, however, that Western economic, political and legal traditions that have empowered individuals to act freely and produce and trade with one another over the past three centuries fostered or reinforced all other social and technological progress and human flourishing. So these traditions we defend valiantly, even while we are avid but judicious change advocates in other areas.

One thing we watch with great interest is the balance of tradition versus innovation in sports. Having just watched the University of North Carolina capture its sixth national championship in men’s basketball, Geoff was reminded that UNC first rose to national prominence by pioneering the defensive double-team baseline trap. This tactic allowed UNC to shut down the traditional four-corners offense that prevailed in college basketball prior to introduction of the shot clock.

Baseball fans have witnessed an increasing reliance on relief pitchers in recent years. The Oakland Athletics pioneered the modern bullpen in the late 1980s when they began to deploy baseball’s most feared reliever, Dennis Eckersley, for a single-inning appearance to finish a game. The rest of the pitching staff was engineered backwards from his one-inning close with specific roles given to other relievers. Even the use of starting pitchers was planned with the goal of getting to Eckersley for the ninth inning.

For many decades before, relief pitchers were, with some exceptions, hurlers whose performance didn’t earn them starting roles. Oakland’s approach flipped the script and made the bullpen the focal point. Oakland went to the World Series three consecutive years, and other teams began to follow suit. Last year, relief pitchers logged the highest percentage of innings pitched in history. Our team, the Los Angeles Dodgers led the way with a record 591 innings thrown by relievers.

Oakland again innovated in the early 2000s by emphasizing how often batters get on base over traditional metrics like batting average or home runs. Oakland’s meager budget precluded them from competing for prolific free-agent sluggers, but they reasoned a walk was as good as a hit and built their offense accordingly.

This small-ball approach lowered their payroll, and many teams now mimic the innovation. Now free-agent sluggers and pitchers face a much less lucrative market.

We embrace innovation in many areas, but we’re Old School about what’s most important: the tradition of loving and caring for our wives, children and families.

Ron Knecht is Nevada Controller. Geoffrey Lawrence is Assistant Controller.

Tradition by Damian Gadal is licensed CC BY 2.0.