Basketball, Startups, and Life

When you watch the San Antonio Spurs (or the Atlanta Hawks this season), you get a sense of a system at work on the court. There is chaos, the players are moving and cutting all over the place, and then a pass is made to the open man and an uncontested layup results. It’s like magic.

My partner Andy wrote a post about chaos and startups a few days ago that briefly touches on basketball. He talks about the Zen Master Phil Jackson:

Phil Jackson believed this too. He wrote “the road to freedom is a beautiful system.” The winningest coach in NBA history believed that his success was developing a framework for his players to guide the dozens and dozens of decisions that they have to make each game, each play. He actually believed then, that his job as a coach during games was just to watch. If he had helped the team develop the right framework, then his role would at its optimum – at decision-making time – simply to sit back and let them process.

Andy’s point is that those advising and investing in startups should do the same – help the startup team develop a framework for making decisions and then sit back and watch them do it.

One thing I know for sure is that those who advise and invest in startups cannot and should not meddle in the day to day decision making. It’s harmful and hurtful to the startup and those that lead it. So operating at a higher level, helping to set the framework for decision making and then sitting down and watching the game be played, is certainly the way to go. Of course that doesn’t mean abdicating the responsibility to have the right team on the court at the right time. Coaches do that and advisors and investors should too.