Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Changing the Game

Malcolm Gladwell is an author and journalist who has written five New York Times bestselling books about a variety of human conditions, from the sharing of ideas to the basis for success.  In his latest book, David and Goliath, he talks about how underdogs throughout history have secured victory by overcoming disadvantages and changing the rules of the contest.  One of his examples is the subject of this week's story...

When he volunteered to coach his 12-year-old daughter's Redwood City basketball team, Vivek had never even touched a basketball.  Having missed the draft selection, he found that his team was made up of the girls who weren’t picked by the other dads and coaches, most of whom were ex-basketball players themselves.  He didn’t want to make a fool of himself, so on the first day of practice, he had his team do nothing but run.  That night, he went home and studied the game.

Vivek had grown up in Mumbai, India.  He knew from an early age that he wanted to attend MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, because he’d seen a documentary on the school and decided that it was perfect for him.  At the age of 16, he applied to MIT and was admitted, but the Indian government had a policy which required their authorization to release foreign currency for study abroad.  Undeterred, Vivek camped outside the office of the governor of the Reserve Bank of India until they gave him $50 to take to the United States.  Vivek went on to graduate with a bachelor’s and master’s degree from MIT, and, after working for several major companies, he founded his own Silicon Valley business that pioneered the use of “real-time” data processing.

He had been raised with cricket and soccer, so Vivek was puzzled by American basketball.  The amount of time each team gave the other team to get their offense ready made no sense.  Team A would score, then immediately return to the other end of the court and wait.  Team B would inbound the ball, dribble down the court, and attempt to execute a carefully constructed play.  Then the process would reverse.  Most of the time, a team would only defend the last twenty-four feet of the seventy-foot court.  It seemed like an antiquated ritual, as foolish as boxing was before boxers learned to weave and dodge their opponent’s punches. 

To Vivek, it was simple:  Good teams had players who were tall and could dribble and shoot well.  So it made no sense for weaker, less-skilled teams to play in a way that let the good teams do those things that made them good.  Redwood City’s team had two serious basketball players, but most of the others had never played before.  They weren’t tall, and couldn’t shoot or dribble well.  Vivek knew that if they let their opponents dribble the ball up the court without opposition, they would almost certainly lose.  So he decided that they would play the game differently.  If they couldn’t be the most skilled team, they would be the most fit, and they would defend every inch of the court, every game, all the time.

Redwood City did constant running drills to improve their stamina.  They worked on defending every pass, including the first pass to bring the ball inbound.  Often, their opponents couldn’t make the inbound pass within the five-second time limit, or the inbounding players would panic as the clock expired and end up throwing the ball away.  The defense of the otherwise-inexperienced Redwood City girls was relentless, preventing their opponents from using their superior shooting and ball-handling skills.  Frequently, Redwood City would intercept key inbound passes, allowing them to score easy layups.  Vivek’s strategy worked.  The opposing coaches were dumbfounded.  And Redwood City’s team was winning.

What began as simply a way to spend more time with his daughter led to a love of basketball that would see Vivek Ranadiv√© become the co-owner of two professional NBA teams, first the Golden State Warriors, and more recently the Sacramento Kings in 2013.  But this story also demonstrates that a key trait among the world’s most successful people is recognizing when challenging situations can be turned to one’s advantage.  If Redwood City had tried to play skill against skill in the way most teams did, they might never have won.  But thanks to Vivek’s unique approach, his daughter’s team turned apparent disadvantage into triumph. 

Try to view life’s challenges as opportunities for success, and you’ll find that changing the game to your own advantage is as satisfying as an easy layup after a stolen inbound pass!

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams!

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