Albert Einstein once said: “Problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them.” He was of course referring to scientific problem solving.
But I believe it can equally apply to solving problems in business.
In particular startups. The fragile children we bring into the world and hope they will take flight.
Before I started my business in my early twenties, I was a semi-professional basketball player. Because I had failed my HSC and not gone to university, I needed to call upon all I had learned as a sportsman as a metaphor for business.
I adopted the same mindset I had used in sport for my business.
A basketball team, when first formed, is a bit like that newborn child I mentioned, and the coach and manager are its parents. Though full of potential, the team will not flourish and become successful if the coach and manager just sit on the sideline and hope it will come together.
They need to be a family. Interestingly, the word team derives from what was, in old English, the word for family.
Left to its own devices any team will typically dissolve into the sum of its parts with each player vying for prominence. They don’t need an opposing team, they will beat themselves.
Just as a businessman will beat him or herself by not having the right mindset. In business, like sport, it is impossible to win every time. So be prepared to adapt to situations. But adapt while keeping your end goal clearly in mind. If one tactic doesn’t work try another, but don’t change your goal.
Naturally, I can find a classic example of this in my favourite sport. The early career of the now legendary Michael Jordan.
New owners and managers of the Chicago Bulls, Jerries Reinsdorf and Krause built the team around Jordan to such an extent that he became a serious ball hog and held the Bulls back from success.
Not until the equally legendary, yet not as globally well known, Scottie Pippen was brought to watch Jordan’s back, did the whole thing start to coalesce.
Reinsdorf and Krause didn’t change their goal of having one of the most successful teams of all time, they just changed their tactics. Along the way, Krause and Jordan both became billionaires.
So what I learned, from sport if not theoretical physics, held me in good stead when I started out in the equally challenging world of business.
I had great ideas, a sharp brain and all the burning passion of a young man set to make his mark. Despite the fact that I had little formal education and no money whatsoever.
And make my mark I did!
Within two years of starting my business I was turning over more than a million dollars a year.
But I soon realised that in order to grow, I would have to move from being a lone operator to heading up a company. It was as though my startup with all its challenges and setbacks had been an incredibly rigid and tough basketball training regime and now I was set to captain my own team and move into the NBA with all my would be competitors being the other teams.
Now I head up a company that turns over many millions of dollars, has offices around the world and employs some thirty staff.
My success even allowed me to go back to basketball for a while, but as an owner not a player.
Yet once again it was this sport that taught me a good lesson about business.
I was a minority shareholder in the Sydney Kings, for whom I had once been a towel boy. When the team lost its major investor and got into financial difficulties, I found, much as I longed to, I could do little to help because I wasn’t in control.
Now in business, I never enter into an investment or agreement if I cannot control every aspect of it. But would-be entrepreneurs should learn as early as possible that control doesn’t mean micro-managing, but taking a broader view and planning for outcomes.
Always remember ‘We Over Me’ is the best way to get to ‘Us Over Them!’
I still love basketball and the Kings especially, but when it comes to business I still keep the same mindset that I started with. I know that like Jordan, I cannot do it alone. Now I pick what in basketball are called ‘Role Players’ people who are good in their chosen field and stick to it. Adapting as necessary so that I can guide and help them achieve the goals I set.
To close as I opened, I shall return once more to Einstein: “Wisdom is not a product of learning, but of the life-long attempt to acquire it.” In business we must do this every day. We must study problems and adapt our tactics in order to achieve goals.