Can an entrepreneur learn from Coach Wooden?

Entrepreneurs can learn a lot from John Wooden, the best basketball coach of all-time who lead UCLA to 10 NCAA championships. Here are a few of the gems:

  1. Wooden said “It is very easy to get comfortable in a position of leadership (or power). Your players (or employees) make you believe you have all of the answers because you enjoyed some success. People start telling you are the smartest one around. But if you begin to believe them, you become the idiot. You stop learning from your competitors. When you ignore those around you who are creating innovative new strategies and techniques, you are ripe for defeat or a major setback. Don’t believe the positive press.
  2. One of the main reasons it is so hard to stay on top is maintaining a competitive  ”edge”. If there is one key to gaining that edge or success it is experience. Most entrepreneurs do not possess much experience unless they already paid their dues working for someone else. Some entrepreneurs failed or succeeded as the #2 in a similar business previously. Watch out for those guys or someone with a lot of experience in your industry.
  3. Once you’re #1 for a sustained period of time, it is easy to believe your own press and adoring fans. Look at Tiger Woods. He was on top of the world until he lost his edge. Every music artist or performer realizes how hard it is to repeat the #1 song or repeat as champions. At UCLA we realized we had to work even harder the second time to the point where we could achieve similar results. Why? Each subsequent success takes an even greater effort than the first.
  4. Avoid the temptation of believing your past entrepreneurial achievements signal future success. As a leader you must never be satisfied or content that you know everything about your business, customers or employees. No two customers or employees are the same. Each individual under your management is unique and requires practice, empathy, and understanding. This is particularly true about customers. No success with one large customer makes up for lack of understanding in other segments critical to your venture’s success. Be careful to not let one representative customer guide how you will serve all others. Everyone wants to be treated as unique and valuable.
  5. Wooden said “There is no one formula for getting your company/team to play well together”. It is science and art at the same time—and art is difficult to pull off, let alone be great at the science. It is so rare to be perennially successful because it takes sacrifice and dedication. Knowing Wooden won 10 NCAA championships and 88 straight games as UCLA’s head coach,  he might know something about keeping a competitive edge and managing for success.
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About Don Capener

Dr. Capener joined the Monmouth College business faculty in 2001. He is best known as the co-founder of Above The Rim Basketball that sold to Reebok in 1993. Capener recently accepted the Deanship at Jacksonville University’s Davis School of Business in Florida. As an Emmy award winning advertising professional in the Southern CA region, Don was the CMO and marketing architect for Above The Rim and ClickRewards.com. He directed national efforts for Visa’s promotional campaigns such as Visa Rewards at Frankel & Company in Chicago and San Francisco. He rose to Managing Director of Frankel’s San Francisco office. He is now a Professor of Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship and consults for start-up and mid-sized companies

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