NBA lessons for success in the Innovation Economy
This weekend marks the annual NBA All-Star Game, which includes the sometimes thrilling and other times passé Sprite Slam Dunk Contest. Peeking at some of the television previews, I began to wonder what can the NBA and the game of basketball teach us about the kind of personal wherewithal and professional talent that is needed to succeed in the Innovation Economy?
Let’s examine a few fast facts about the NBA that may yield a useful lesson:
Only 3 of 50 Top NBA Players of All Time are commonly considered great slam dunkers: Julius Erving, Clyde Drexler and Michael Jordan.
Only 2 of 25 Slam Dunk Champions have led their teams to an NBA Title: Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan
Only 3 of 50 Top NBA Players of All Time did not have an opportunity to play for an NBA Title: Dave Bing, Pete Maravich and George Gervin.
Only 8 of 50 Top NBA Players of All Time did not win an NBA Title: Elgin Baylor, Dave Bing, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Pete Maravich, Patrick Ewing and George Gervin.
It’s clear: Great basketball players compete for and win championships and great slam dunkers do not. As such, in the NBA, it is far better to be an excellent all-around player than it is to be a fabulous dunker.
Problem with the slam dunk
No one can deny the team-energizing and crowd-pleasing effect of a thunderous dunk. The dunk may be the single most explosive play in sports. Often, a dunk is a beautiful integration of force, style and athleticism. The dunk is a spectacular play.
And therein lays the problem with the slam dunk and the lesson we can take. The dunk, my friends, is just a single play. As jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring as the dunk may be, it is just one play and worth only two points.
It is important that we not confuse the flash and dash of 21st century opportunities in the Innovation Economy with the single event quantity and quality of the dunk.
Innovation Economy opportunities
The dynamic opportunities wrought by the Innovation Economy are neither singular nor episodic – they are realized as a continuing way of life, a daily pursuit of the next, better . . .the next, better idea, production process, organizational mission impact tool, or any other new way of doing a thing.
Much like in the game of basketball, the proverbial great slam dunkers in the Innovation Economy will be temporarily recognized and rewarded. They will not, however, enjoy the kind of enduring benefits that result from the ongoing quest for the next, better . . . . Metaphorically, they rarely will become Innovation Economy champions.
Demand for great players
The Innovation Economy demands great innovators, i.e., great players – not necessarily single event, spectacular dunkers. Great basketball players master the less glamorous, but fundamental aspects of the all-around game. For example, they can dribble and score layups with either their right or left hands; they generally shoot a good percentage from the free throw line; and they rebound the basketball at a level consistent with the expectations of their position.
A great dunker, on the other hand, usually has conspicuous, sometimes remarkable, flaws in his game, that undermine his ability to sustain the level of performance required to win championships.
Those who are succeeding in the Innovation Economy innovate every day and have mastered the fundamentals of this economic era through education (especially STEM education), other academic training and high-growth business creation. They are never satisfied with the status quo. They maintain an extraordinary balance, blending execution with creativity. They are always thinking about, planning for and implementing the next, better . . . .
The bottom line is that it’s a much, much better proposition to think about innovation as a life-long process, a life skill, even a lifestyle, than to think of it as one amazing event.
Johnathan Holifield, Trim Tabber