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.


Comments (Archived):

  1. pointsnfigures

    Ha, my blogpost for tomorrow. How to be a good investor. I think good investors are like coaches-and not the Bobby Knight type.

    1. andyswan

      Some entrepreneurs could use a dose or two of Bobby Knight

      1. BillMcNeely

        I think This generation would have the courage to kick Bobby Knight’s ass. And that’s a good thing at times.

        1. Emily Merkle

          who’s Bobby Knight? 😉

          1. Emily Merkle

            I was kidding.

      2. pointsnfigures

        It’s all in the delivery and method. Coach K played for Knight at West Point, but has developed his own idea of motivation and coaching. I don’t think the Knight way works today like it did. At the end, he motivated by fear, and his teams were too centralized. His best team had a great QB in Quinn Buckner and a very decentralized motion offense.

  2. LE

    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 playIn sports you can practice practice practice in order to reinforce that framework, right?However in business the equivalent would be years of experience. From my perspective (and what I know about sports) I don’t think there is a comparison between a sports framework and doing the same thing in the business world. Decisions become automatic over time when you’ve had to make a great deal of them and can handle the nuance and differences.

    1. JimHirshfield

      That might be true. But practice, practice, practice is very much required in sales (and as a way to get to Carnegie Hall, but that’s another topic).

      1. LE

        Different parts of business take different amounts of time to perfect. Sales might be like driving past a certain point (and I will not offer what that point is) you don’t learn that much more. For example the difference between driving experience (or sales cold calling) for 5 years and 20 years is probably not that great (arbitrary picked). But the difference between being in business for 5 years and 20 years is. Being in business involves many facets and decision. Sales is only one of those things. Anything that you do repeatedly to the exclusion of “everything else” you can learn about in a shorter period of time.

    2. William Mougayar

      but there is so much uncertainty ahead in each game. do we know exactly how each game will turn out? no way. the dynamics on the ground are made-up of thousands of signals, and the coach can see the patterns and translate that into what it means for the team. the analogy in business is an indirect one of course.

      1. LE

        Well isn’t the point of continuous practice (in sports) in order to develop “auto reactions” to events and be able to pursue a programmed plan? All while remaining cool and confident so you can make the right moves?

  3. JimHirshfield

    Here here. Love the sports analogies. Let’s just not ask Pete Carroll to chime in here.I like to think of this from the stage director’s perspective. When you go to see a Bway play, is the director directing the actors? Is he backstage feeding them lines and direction? No. The director’s job is done when the curtain rises.

  4. awaldstein

    A framework for decisions is honestly all that business really is. That is why I’ve always held and blogged about that the best strategy is a smart execution.

    1. Joe Cardillo

      Yeah, this. Really nails it. Also a corollary is that if the framework is unethical and/or lacking in focus on ecosystem / long term balance level thinking… than it is bound to fail over time (perhaps in obvious measures like revenue, or less obvious ones like selling out a community – any entrepreneur / founder I know who is serious I tell them to read Andy Baio’s piece once a month… )

      1. awaldstein

        Good post–thanks for the share.

    2. William Mougayar

      “Success is 20% skills and 80% strategy.” – Jim Rohn (Jim Rohn has become my favorite business philosopher…upcoming post on him)

      1. awaldstein

        These are not the opposite sides of a coin for me.Catchy but no cigar to my way of thinking.

        1. William Mougayar

          well, i like it because it puts the emphasis on strategy, which is how you achieve your objectives. you can learn a skill, or copy it, but you can’t easily copy someone’s strategy. in my book, strategy is your unique playbook, and is tied to your success. it is not revealed, but its effects are obvious when it is executed.

          1. Joe Cardillo

            The either/or thing definitely gets in the way….I’d argue that realistically it’s nested as strategy > skills > tactics. But might just be semantics this far down.

          2. William Mougayar

            Based on experience and principles I learned at HP, Objectives are the key thing. Objectives are the results you’re after. You achieve that via a given strategy. How well or quickly you achieve that depends on your skills/experience. http://startupmanagement.or

          3. Joe Cardillo

            Interesting, I didn’t know much about the history of MBOs / KPIs etc. Tangentially, have you written about the decision to go from enterprise to startups? Was looking on SMgmt other day but didn’t see anything

          4. William Mougayar

            Ha. Maybe LinkedIn would tell you. I left big corp HP to be on my own in 1995, but relapsed into big co for 3 years 2005-2008, then out again. Overall I spent 50/50 in big co / startups. Big Small Big Small.

          5. Joe Cardillo

            Ah ok cool, at some point be curious to hear more about that…I haven’t relapsed so far myself but am much earlier in career, too.

          6. awaldstein

            Actually how well you achieve it depends on the intersection of your objectives and your ability to lead a team to make it happen.Individual skills beyond communications and strategic intent and leadership are really inconsequential.

          7. Vasudev Ram

            Was it HP who had that technique called Management by Objective(s)? and/or Management By Wandering Around (MBWA)? Pretty sure they had (and maybe invented the term for) the latter, I’ve used it some, and it works.Edit: A simple google found the links for both:

          8. William Mougayar

            Yes to both. They practiced & coined them.

          9. awaldstein

            We simply use different books my friend.Strangest semantic counterpoints I’ve seen in awhile.

          10. William Mougayar

            Happy to disagree on the sausage making, as long as it tastes good at the end, and is accompanied by an excellent bottle of artisanal wine 🙂

          11. awaldstein

            Yup–but how and from what you make the sausage is of course what it is ;)Oh so true in business, in life, in sausage making and for certain, in wine.

    3. JamesHRH

      This is too advanced Zen for me!

      1. awaldstein

        ;)Try this on for straight talk on this:The best marketing strategy is dynamic execution

  5. LE

    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.Hmm. Well you are the guy that does this stuff not me. However perhaps the reason you don’t meddle is simply because you really don’t have the time (and/or the expertise) to meddle in an effective way?I mean I’m sure if someone is going to open up a restaurant and their uncle happens to be Danny Meyer [1] they will for sure want to tap him as a resource, right? You think that Danny can just lay down a framework and not somehow help with the nuance of the decisions that someone who has no clue yet has to make? Now of course if Danny invests in 30 companies it no longer becomes practical to do any handholding at all. Maybe even for his nephew. [2][1] Or perhaps your son/daughters decides to become an angel and a VC. You don’t think that you or Joanne could provide valuable handholding? Obviously you could and while you might not want to meddle for various reasons the truth is what both of you have learned over the years is extremely valuable (time permitting).[2] Likewise, if the investor does not have Danny’s expertise and years of experience then it’s probably good to just back off.

    1. fredwilson

      i don’t meddle in my kids’ decision making either and i have the time for themif you don’t make your own decisions you can’t learn from making the wrong ones

      1. LE

        I was “lucky” that I had nobody at all to help me with what I did out of college and it was a big benefit in my brain development. No question about that. I had to make every single decision (no partners, no mentor, nothing) in doing something I had no clue about.That said it took a great deal of time and perhaps if there was a shortcut that might have been beneficial in other ways. I actually didn’t make that many mistakes either. (Maybe I didn’t take enough chances..)

      2. LE

        i don’t meddle in my kids’ decision makingOther thing is your kids have a very large safety net. Perhaps if you weren’t as successful as you are you would be a little more fearful of them making mistakes. Additionally you don’t have to live vicariously through your kids since you have achieved success yourself. [1][1] Not saying you don’t want them to be successful but it’s different than the guy living in the row house who doesn’t want his kids to make the mistakes that he feels he might have made which ended him going nowhere at the PANYNJ.

      3. pointsnfigures

        Amen. You can lead the horse to water.

  6. William Mougayar

    “There are no stereotypes for success.” (Jim Rohn)In the same way that every VC deal is different, every startup will be different, and that chaos theory is so very true at the beginning, but as the company grows, some of that chaos turns into patterns, and the style of coaching/mentoring will change depending on the maturity level of the startup/entrepreneur. At the end of the day, it is the entrepreneur/startup that has to make that jump to the hoop, and get the ball in. As an advisor, what you can do is help to make them self-aware, and that’s one of the key things you can do.”He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” (Lao Tzu)

    1. Rick

      The question is: As the adviser grows does the advising turn into patterns?

      1. Emily Merkle

        that’s like saying do you adhere to the Socratic Method. a pattern.

        1. Rick

          Right the idea was to get William to join in on some brainstorming. But I think he is upset with me..I explained to him the other day that I don’t care about profiles and other documents about a person’s past. I care about who the person is now and where they are going. I think I offended him but he won’t talk about it..When I realized I have OCD I started to change how I do things. I use a process I call re-engineering the mind. You evaluate all your processes to ensure they are working the best they can for you. If they are not you either re-work them or replace them..One of the things that came out of it is I no longer measure people by their past. What a person has done is no indication of what they will do. How does the mutual fund saying go: Past returns is not a guarantee of future performance..What I wanted William to do was discuss his current self not his past self. But he must be unhappy with that.

          1. William Mougayar

            Patience my friend…I’m getting back to you.

          2. Emily Merkle

            I auto-tune my mind. and yes when I developed ADD I had to re-engineer things.

          3. Donna Brewington White

            So if you remove past performance from the equation, how do you measure capability — or predict success?

          4. Rick

            The person in question does that. So the person knows better than myself how things went and how comfortable there were peforming..The map is not the terrain and the profile is not the person.

      2. William Mougayar

        A lot of it does, because the investor/advisor has typically seen a few situations prior and they can apply some pattern matching (as Andy describes in his post), but I think it’s not “just pattern matching”.

      3. JamesHRH

        The advisor pattern is merely that they end up in deals where they can add the most value.That’s different for each VC as well.

    2. JamesHRH

      Every startup takes the founder(s) path to success. Self awareness and then self acceptance leads to doing it the way that you can do it.People who are asking for the recipe are not at the point where they can be chefs.

    3. Donna Brewington White

      As an advisor, what you can do is help to make them self-aware, and that’s one of the key things you can do.Self-awareness. That’s huge.But self-awareness has to be desired and embraced. It’s hard to force that on someone.Although it does help when you trust the person helping to bring that awareness and you know that they have your best interests at heart.

      1. William Mougayar

        I’ll admit that self-awareness is relatively new in the business vocabulary, but we used to call it “personal development” as you had to first find out what you needed to work on to improve yourself or improve for your job. It was a key part of a performance appraisal. This got lost along the increased informalities of business and self-work trends, so we replaced it by saying “self-awareness”.Life is a continuous improvement process. Either you figure out the improvement part yourself, or someone else you report to dictates it for you.

  7. Marcus Detry

    IMO system is a result of culture, which is so understated in determining NBA success. An owner who lets basketball minds make basketball decisions, gives the necessary resources to the GM and coach so they have the support they need, etc. GMs who let the coach manage gameplans, rotations, etc. Coaches who are able to act as a “partner” to the talent. The Spurs and Heat have incredibly strong cultures, so guys on the fringe fall in line whereas in a weaker culture they may go rogue. Culture is the foundation for everything, IMO.

  8. Avi Deitcher

    Just yesterday, I was talking with an Israeli-Bostonian entrepreneur about the difference between VCs in 2 locations. One does exactly what you describe, the other says to founders/CEO, “OK, we put a few $MM into your company, so now you work for us, here is exactly what you need to do.” When the VC has no operational experience, it is even worse.We actually listed 3 VCs who are well known, successful and in demand right now, each from NY, LA, SV. All 3 have the approach above… and all 3 have operational experience. Coincidence? I think not….

  9. MikeSchinkel

    Oh my. I so want to learn more of this framework of which you speak…

  10. Daniel Lu

    Having the right framework also helps bring out the best in the team, not just your individual superstars.In case you missed the Beautiful Game video from last year:

  11. Daniel Ahmadizadeh

    Basketball has taught me so much about life and startups. I am building my startup from a gym in NYC (#cheaperthancoworkingspaces) and play basketball for 30min a day to detox and reflect about my day/decisions.

  12. Emily Merkle

    I try to learn, and there are questions there, but prepare and execute on my own. you do come at times to major pivot points sometimes when you need counsel, just even a go/no-go. otherwise, just take the ball and go. entrepreneurs are not really up for hand-holding as it were, anyway.

  13. Gregg Freishtat


  14. Matthew Perle

    I like the basketball analogy because great players can have a disproportionate impact on the outcome relative to other sports like football and baseball (except Bumgarner). Phil Jackson had a great talent for letting teams make their own decisions, but perhaps his greater skill was in choosing to coach teams with three of the greatest players of all time. Same with Gregg Popovich, who would have probably still been a very good coach without Tim Duncan, but nowhere near the legend he is today (which he admits).

  15. kidmercury

    there’s been a lot of questioning as to whether the triangle offense (phil jackson’s basketball religion) can work in new york. believers say you can build the team around the system. haters say you have implement the system based on the team.i think both philosophies can work, though i much prefer adapting the system around the team rather than other way this end i think it is instructive to view the sixers approach vs the knicks approach:sixers — tear up the roster and invest heavily in the draft; pick the best players. build system around the players you keep and want to work with.knicks — implement triangle offense, all coaches must believe in the triangle. train existing players on triangle.go sixers!

    1. William Mougayar

      what did you think of the east/west game yesterday, in case you watched it. twas like a ping pong game more than basketball, more exhibition and layups than real used to be more competitive in a real sense.

      1. Mike M.

        I agree with your exhibition sentiment. I thought the game was entertaining in moments, but was awful as a whole.

        1. William Mougayar

          I kept switching to the SNL 40th anniversary special. That was entertaining !

          1. Mike M.

            Celebrity Jeopardy was fantastic.

      2. pointsnfigures

        All Star games traditionally play a defense that is more aptly called the “Matador Defense”

        1. William Mougayar

          yup…it gets boring after a while to watch the “defense” suddenly disappear, to let the player dunk it.

          1. pointsnfigures

            But it never gets boring to slam it

  16. BillMcNeely

    I get the idea that most people in tech startups are very successful people in most everything they have have ever done.How important is it to provide a framework of resiliency , the ability to bounce back from getting knocked on your ass?

    1. Emily Merkle

      you can’t really do that in my experience. it is your experiences up to the point that have dev’d your resiliency. sometimes tho you do need survival strategies in the muck and that is where guidance comes in handy.

    2. LE

      Being able to deal with adversity: Not that easy for some people who have sailed through the best schools without working particularly hard at it.

  17. Joe Cardillo

    Part of what makes a great bball system work is that the best coaches know they don’t own it, and that it’s a unique ecosystem that you can’t control. I think when people extrapolate from the great systems builders, like Phil Jackson, they tend to isolate pieces and structure.That’s a real problem in the startup world, particularly with young entrepreneurs who write the standard “this one thing helped me increase our user growth by 147%” blog post and not the “we’ve increased our user growth 18% by balancing these 4 factors that include a sustainable/ethical perspective and expect that same level of growth to continue.” Much harder, much more important for entrepreneurs / founders to grasp, and VCs, advisers, etc. to help foster.

  18. Rick

    “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.”.Is this the right way to do it Fred?:#TRUTH

    1. fredwilson

      i think so. and replacing players who aren’t getting it done on the court. as i explained in the post.

      1. Rick

        I mean putting “#TRUTH” in my comment. I saw you do that with one of my posts but I don’t know what “#TRUTH” does. I just know that I agree with what I quoted from your post.

        1. fredwilson


          1. Rick

            I looked it up. #truth is a twitter thing. I thought it had something to do with searching or tagging.

  19. kevando

    We have a board meeting this week, so thank you for another awesome timely post! And I always wondered what the heck basketball coaches did…

    1. Rick

      Yep this was a good one today and Brad has a board meeting post on today that is good too. Just FYI.

      1. kevando

        Much appreciated.

      2. Emily Merkle


  20. Salt Shaker

    If the NBA desires true balance and parity, for starters, they need to kill the lottery system. The absolute worst team should get the #1 pick, not be dependent on a higher probability that a bunch of ping-pong balls will fall their way. If San Antonio hadn’t lucked out w/ Tim Duncan, the overall #1 pick in 1997 and arguably one of the most underrated players in the history of the game, the Spurs likely would never be as successful as they’ve been. He’s the foundation, which every team (and biz) needs to build upon. Most important, he’s fundamentally sound, doesn’t have a crazy ego, and understands and fully embraces the importance of team play.The Knicks are in a quandary. They have cap room, yet it’s questionable whether any truly elite player wants to play in Phil’s triangle system, despite his legacy of succes. His system takes time to learn/master, and patience is a word I’d hardly associate w/ today’s NBA players. (Frankly, the Knicks biggest mistake was getting rid of Donnie Walsh).Very few modern-day NBA players buy into and understand the concept of “team.” It’s what makes the college game so much more fun to watch for purists. There’s far more “team” in the college vs. pro game.

    1. pointsnfigures

      I think more the players are a victim of their training. The way up has changed significantly in the last fifteen years. Now it’s AAU and club teams. In the old days with long socks and short shorts, you had to play for a high school coach that schooled you in the fundamentals of the game. The thing I admired most about Jordan was not his flash, but how he was never out of position and always was fundamentally correct in everything he did.

      1. Salt Shaker

        Good point. AAU and club teams are also beholden to the likes of Nike, Adidas, Sonny Vaccaro, etc.

  21. Twain Twain

    I was Captain of basketball in my mixed high school. Not the tallest, strongest or fastest player on court I was designated the team strategist and played Right Guard.During training sessions, our coach (who was also one of our Heads of Years and had played basketball in the US as a college student) would run through different offensive-defensive frameworks and made it clear how we should mark the ball and where the strengths and weaknesses were in the game (ours and the opposition’s).I know that when our team first started out, we were all over the place with no team discipline and a certain amount of selfishness. Everyone wanted to do the layup that scored the points or win the 3 with no bounce off the hoop and backboard. We’d scramble after and bodycheck the other team which led to penalties against us.So our coach frameworked the parameters of each of our responsibilities and the discipline of “enabling the free flow of the ball” — whether offensively or defensively.In 4 years we lost 1 game.Now, as an adult, I’ve always worked best under managers and mentors, aka coaches, who don’t micro-manage. They provide training and tools to enable the team to work and learn from each other, and they simply let the team fly and do their thing.If an investor is micro-managing downwards, the founding team is forced to allocate resources managing upwards to their investors when they should be spending their time solving the market needs and servicing their customers by delivering amazing products.

    1. William Mougayar

      Great comment!

      1. Twain Twain

        Thanks. I’m very much a product of my coaches and the things I learnt from them.

        1. William Mougayar

          Are you in Canada?

          1. Twain Twain

            I’m in SF for a few months. Learning lots of things I wouldn’t be able to learn anywhere else!

    2. Joe Cardillo

      Personally, I believe we always create more amazing things when we work together, and I categorically reject the trope of the genius coder in a tiny room working for weeks and months on end. Lot of junk code & structure comes out of that…the execution that matters is the framework / working together.And having worked directly beneath a founder that was managing upwards to investors, couldn’t agree more about your last point.

      1. Twain Twain

        Generally, the myth of the genius coder in a tiny room is unhelpful as well an untruth.Facebook, Google and pretty much all the “unicorns” were a combination of several heads and hands.However, there are extreme rare examples where invention by first principles possibly requires a genius to go outside the echo chambers and to both framework and make a system.Think of it in terms of Newton or Galileo. They couldn’t have invented gravity or the telescope by collaborative consensus.It was a singular spark specifically from them.

    3. ShanaC

      The question is why someone feels the need to micro-manage. usually there is other underlying anxieties that need to be spoken aloud.

      1. Twain Twain

        Usually because they don’t yet know enough about the other party to trust them to run with things.It’s all pretty paradoxical.The micro-manager won’t cede control which means the micro-managed doesn’t get a chance to prove that they’re perfectly capable of stepping up, doing teamwork, solving the problem and delivering.And so the vicious cycle propagates and resentment builds between micro-manager and micro-managed.

        1. ShanaC

          I sometimes posit it is because they don’t know themselves either

  22. kirklove

    Great post!Helps having 3 of the top 10 greatest players of all time on your team, too :)He’s finding that out in NYC right now.

    1. Mike M.

      Easy now. 3 of the top 75? Absolutely. Top 50? quite possibly, although rodman, while still outstanding, was far from his peak as a ballplayer. But top 10 is a wee bit of embellishment.

      1. kirklove

        Jordan, Shaq, Kobe.

        1. Mike M.

          My apologies. I read that as on the team at the same time…On a separate note, not to come across as a jerk, but I would be remiss if I let you get away with spelling the GOAT’s name wrong. Blashpemy!! 🙂

          1. kirklove

            Ha. Autocorrect. Fixed it as soon as I hit submit 😉

        2. pointsnfigures

          On the Bulls Jordan had some pretty great defensive players too. Rodman, Pippen, Cartwright, Grant. They always had a couple of guys that could come off the bench and fill it up too.

          1. kirklove

            Indeed. You need solid team players, too, and they all were. That bulls teams is actually a great analogy for a team. One super star to lead, several players perfectly suited for their sub/specialty roles.

  23. hypermark

    In my experience, a lot of this comes down to three things. One, helping the team develop a narrative that guides what it “is” and is not. Two, identifying and setting processes for manifesting that “is-ness,” and three, spotlighting metrics for tracking and improving the outcomes that matter most.One can see how different the narrative is for Amazon vs. Apple vs. Google vs. Facebook, and also see how many companies lack a coherent narrative, and as a result, operate as a nebulous glob.

  24. Jaime Novoa

    And in cases of trouble, let the CEO (although one could argue that it would be Duncan in the case of the Spurs) take over the situation and communicate to your team what the coach/investor might suggest or have in mind.This is a great video.

  25. edf

    Good, succinct article.One observation: the concept of having “the right team on the court” can be interpreted in a couple ways. In this instance, I think it refers to both the actual composition of the team you’re investing in/advising, as well as a broader metaphor for intervention (when necessary).

    1. fredwilson

      I meant it as the latter.

  26. Thor Snilsberg

    Sitting next to an owner of the MN Timberwolves at yesterday’s All Star Game we discussed how the MN coach has “learned to call less plays and has thinned down his playbook.” The former point guard, Flip Saunders, was clearly used to running the show while on the court and has learned that coaching in the “chaos” of a game requires ceding more control and entrusting his players.At work I see how ‘calling too many plays from the sidelines’ can erode staff confidence and accountability. For example, in giving very detailed directions on a recent project, it took me weeks to realize that my team was not solving a problem, they were trying to figure out how to execute a ‘play that I called.’Clearly, we want to build our companies to respond to and reframe “chaotic” environments as opportunities. Providing “frameworks” is a strategy to empower a diverse team to bring their skills together toward a common goal. As the saying goes, “success is preparedness meeting opportunity.”

  27. matthughes

    Speaking of basketball, these frame-by-frame shots of the dunk contest are awesome:

  28. edzschau

    Great post Fred. Appreciate the analogy between sports coach and VC/board member. One big responsibility of the board is to make sure the company has the right CEO. Question for you related to ‘having the right team’ – is it the place for a board member to tell the CEO to replace a member of his/her team – is that advising or meddling?

    1. fredwilson

      if its advice, its helpfulif its an order, its hurtful

      1. Amar

        Love that 🙂 the dividing line between “advice” and “order” is ego.

  29. edzschau

    By the way Fred, Popovich is the master in San Antonio and no surprise in Atlanta with Budenholzer as HC being a 19 year assistant under Pop. But you have to show some love for Steve Kerr – who has modeled his coaching style and team play after Pop and Jackson – and the Warriors. The Spurs play the Warriors this Friday. You should stay up late for that one – I think it’s on TNT. Go Dubs!

    1. fredwilson

      i love Steph Curry. i will be watching

      1. edzschau

        Like Curry’s court play, but more importantly, love his character. Like Duncan.

  30. cyanbane

    An interesting analogy (experiment?) could be what happened in the East last night. For awhile there were four Hawks on the floor. The sum of all their parts made them a good move to get almost every man out there for a little while because they gelled so well during the season. I wonder what would happen if you had a fund all-star game. You take the best members of a small set of companies (maybe four *are* from the same company) and just say “hey, for this weekend I want you to tackle this problem from another company”. Would be interesting to see what could be accomplished in a weekend especially if an underlying framework was already in play by a majority of them from another company.

  31. Steve Bengston

    The lesson from Phil Jackson is have a great system and…Michael Jordan, Shaq, or Kobe !

    1. Lucky

      hahahha yes

  32. Ari Lewis

    Great post!

  33. ShanaC

    Getting rid of the tendency to meddle: I can see it being hard. People want to meddle, it gives them the feeling of control in a situation with lots of beta (which is the nature of startups)How to control and strategize when life is really out of control (or there is a lot of control because not enough information yet) is a specialized skill. You shouldn’t be investing or advising if you can’t handle it.(brief 2 cents, but someone should adjust for inflation)

  34. Donna Brewington White

    The older I get, the longer I am in business, the more I understand the importance of this. Funny how raising kids is similar.The other benefit is that this promotes learning. In business, if we don’t learn, we pretty much die… or severely limp.

    1. awaldstein

      The difference to me is that you can and should train to be a leader or create a business. There is a base of learning at your fingertips to access. Foolish if you don’t.No one trains to be a parent. We simply become one and create parenting as we go along.That is why it is so interesting, so messy, so wonderful. And each of us do it differently and most, do a great job.

  35. Semil Shah

    Re: meddling in day to day operations, it seems like the last 5 years has been about 50% of VC claiming to help and touting their operational experience. Is there a middle ground?

  36. Alex Murphy

    Phil Jackson was a different kind of coach, and his record speaks volumes. But that is not the way 99.9% of coaches act. Basketball, of all the sports, is the most micro managed sport of all. 83 times outs in a game (when you include the TV time outs) and 142 substitutions with players going in and out, out and in. It really isn’t about setting up for the perfect scenario.That is the advantage learning from the best, the beautiful game. With two subs per game, and so much noise from the stands that the most a player can hear is a whistle. No time outs. 90 minutes of working towards the two or three moments where you have to be prepared to make the right decision in the moment.It would be great to think through the various positions. The rain maker as the striker. The Accounting, ops, and support teams as defense. The CFO as the goalie. The product team as middies, always running, always on, answering to everyone. With the CEO actually on the side line. With her bench of allstars ready to go in, and the supporting cast of advisors ready to help.The CEO’s role, right players on the field, enough cash in the bank, fixated on the bigger vision … not in the weeds, not playing the individual game, but setting up the team for success, giving them what they need, the practice, the goal, the drive.It will change how you watch the game! Be it business or 90 minutes on the pitch.

  37. Paul Meloan

    Interesting contrast to the collegiate game: it is stunning how over-involved the coaches need to make themselves during the game. If I was a player or a ref I would request a rule seat-belting the coaches to their chairs and gagging them!

  38. falicon

    I think advisor’s are the only area where I will quibble a bit with you on this…some of the best advisors are what I would consider active players on the team in a startups world…so I believe they need to adopt and apply the company framework as well (and most likely help develop it).In the tech. advising that I do, after the founders have put in a framework they believe in (I try to help with that as well if/when I can)…I use it and get my hands dirty helping push code, build the systems/machines, and of course build up the tech. team until they are executing the framework at a comfortable level and I can go into “sit back and watch” mode.So I guess I’m saying I absolutely believe in, and live, the framework approach but who and and when you get to go into “sit back and watch” mode really depends on what you are bringing to the table towards the long term success and of course when (the later the stage you jump in, you’ll pay more for the ticket, but get more of a developed show).

  39. Val Tsanev

    Great post. I absolutely agree with the point that those who advise should not meddle in the day to day decision making, it is first and foremost inefficient and starts to resemble a corporate structure, which has been proven over and over again to be inefficient and not effective. The one main advantage startups have to huge corporations is the speed of execution and if investors interfere in day to day decision making by definition they lessen that one main advantage and decrease the speed of execution.

  40. jssr

    Cool idea. I’d say that the system is one part, the other is forming habits which make decisions based on the framework happen automatically.

  41. Joe Marchese

    Don Shula’s approach to coaching was “make ’em work, and let ’em play”. That’s appropriate for any team sport, including business. Make ’em work is all about discipline to prepare within the system (with the clearing to contribute to the design and execution of the system), and let ’em play is about getting out of the team’s way when they’re on the field. Observe the deployment and results, give unvarnished but supportive feedback, and then back to work.

  42. kirklove

    Oh man, what a fabulous hypothetical I never even pondered. Tough call. Agree on Shaq just being unstoppable in 01, but so was Jordan’s will to win. Man, I want to see that series now. If I had to bet it would be hard for me to go against Jordan. He just won.