There is a misconception among us fantasy hoopsters – we who between fall and spring each year live vicariously through the drama that is basketball, and who are students of the game more than participants (except in the remotest sense) – that defense and rebounding are a matter of effort, foremost. There is an implied duality between offense and defense among us, in that the former requires imagination, skill, talent, whereas the latter is founded on energy and motivation, predominantly. While such notions may hold in the dream-world of spectator hoopsterism, I have reason to suspect that it isn’t quite this way at the actual level, and certainly not when the game is professionally played.
Knowing when to switch, how to avoid mismatches, to run through screens, to anticipate ball movement, to establish position – I take the liberty to jot down my thoughts in amateur hoopsterish, for which I apologize to innocent bystanders – these are very much mental aspects of defense, or rather, good defense, and energy alone in this realm is just not enough. The same is true of rebounding: If Dennis Rodman, for example, was able to pull down boards (again, I’m sorry) like an industrial vacuum cleaner, at a rate unmatched by any of his generation, this was due to much more than athleticism. There was that also, yes, but combined with an uncanny ability to position at the right place around the basket so that the rebound would be within reach. The basket area being a wide arc, with a wide variety of angular alternatives, it isn’t an easy mental exercise to pick well and know how to navigate there through crowds.
I am sometimes reminded about these and related issues in the context of entrepreneurship. There has been a tendency, in public discussions and often as well in private, to confuse high energy and torrential activity with execution. “Just do, and do quickly,” is the abbreviated version of a common business-building thesis, (and all theses require abbreviation in an atmosphere of breathless activity and much doing). The subsequent step, tangential to the stated concept, is this: When frantic doing is deemed inconsequential, “pivot.” (Basketball word, by the way… I’m just saying.) For those unfamiliar with the lingo, to pivot is to change course – into a new product area or new market, using as much of the previously established platform as possible. Once the pivot is in place, return to the original theme again and do.
I exaggerate in order to make a point, but the exaggeration is not entirely unfounded, and the parallel with vicarious hoopsterism is not entirely inappropriate. To continue with this admittedly imperfect analogy, business-building in an atmosphere of extreme doing and pivoting is akin to playing defense, but playing it without the skillful anticipation and maneuvering characteristic of the task well performed. On the basis of energy and passion alone – that is, without the patience for continuing reflection, long-term thought, and careful strategic positioning in a dynamic field – any business-building can only really be defensive -Â even when rooted in an initial spark of inspiration, even when the enterprise is more mature. Which is to say, execution is in this scenario based on reaction rather than plan, and loss of control is a risk.
Granted, planning in a prolonged era of almost unprecedented change – by historical standards in matters of technology, economics, finance, marketing, consumption – can be a daunting task, and there is much that recommends reaction and fast activity in such an era. There is nothing wrong with reaction, there is nothing wrong with speed, these are both good and important qualities for entrepreneurship. But there is a place as well for calm, for strategic outlook, and for thinking several steps ahead of the game. In hoopster speak, it’s called seeing the court. There have been at least a few enterprise-building case studies lately about how and why this matters. Here is one.