Five Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Athletes

Michael Jordan and Mark Zuckerberg have a lot more in common than the fact that they both are extremely rich. Both men have found out how to utilize their talents to create consistently winning teams. The best entrepreneurs and businessmen have become experts in the art of marketing, deal-making and product development. However, athletes have also become notable for understanding particular skill-sets and actions that better position them for success. Here are five lessons that entrepreneurs can learn from athletes.

1. Compliment your competitors, while complimenting your own company even more

Consumers are constantly overwhelmed by companies’ advertisements that state how bad their competitors’ products are, or why you should never buy any product except their own. Don’t insult your competitors; talk more about the strengths and advantages of your product instead of the weaknesses of your competition. Anytime you hear a superstar athlete being interviewed after winning a big game or championship, you will most likely hear them say about how great their competitors played and how talented the other team is. Subsequently, you will then hear how much harder the athlete and their team fought and how dedicated they were to winning. Try this tactic when discussing the competitive landscape between you and your closest industry colleagues.

2. View every interaction with customers and media as a potential image maker and breaker.

Lights, camera, action means it’s time to show your best side. Whether it is an email interview with a small blogger or if it is an in-person interview with a writer from CNN, treat every media interaction the same. Value the smallest fish just as much as you value the big guys. It makes a world of difference. Michael Jordan worked hard at presenting a consistent image to the media regardless of what network or media it was for. The same rule applies to your customers. Treat every customer interaction as an opportunity to make a better impression. Whether it is the smallest support question that a customer may contact you about, understand that each interaction defines how the customer views you. Just as the smart athletes strive to sign as many autographs and take as many pictures as possible, you should do the same. One negative experience can cause a ripple effect of negative reviews, and subsequently, one great interaction can lead to the next big business development deal that you have been looking for.

3. Don’t praise your product, praise your team and your customers instead.

After an exceptional game where an athlete may have scored countless touchdowns or baskets, you wouldn’t hear him talk about how amazing his passing or jump-shots were. You would be more likely to hear him talk about how great his teammates were for getting him the ball when he needed it and how great the fans were for cheering with unwavering support. Take these actions and apply this to your startup. As great as your product may be, understand that it means nothing without a great team to support it and a loyal and passionate customer base to help spread the word. We all know how much time, practice and effort goes into your product, just as a lot of hard work goes into great athletes’ performances. However, it becomes a better story when you take the modest approach and show appreciation to your team and your customers for allowing you to constantly do what you do. Your audiences, both internally and externally, will then take a more vested interest in the success of your business.

4. Don’t expect to score 100% of the time, but strive for it.

No athlete makes all of their shots, catches all of their passes or hits homeruns every time they are at bat. The same rule applies to businesses. Every single product, feature or service will not be homeruns to your customers. Don’t get down on yourself, or your team, if things don’t always work out. Set realistic goals and don’t be afraid to miss shots. There will be days when your product works perfectly or you receive no customer complaints, so enjoy those days. However, when your product’s features receive countless complaints or your server crashes, take it in stride and continue moving. Fix the problem and don’t dwell. Even Michael Jordan had games where he only made just a few shots, but what made him great was the fact that he made shots when his team needed him most. You may have that game where you are missing all of your shots and everything is going wrong, but continue shooting because the one shot that you make may be the game-winning shot. Find your game-winning product, service or feature.

5. After every game, review the game film to find ways to improve.

If your competitors beat you to a valuable strategic partnership or get to market before you do, which may end up costing you immediate profits or traction, take the Michael Jordan approach and study your actions. Watch the game film and see what you could have done better. Look at the metrics you have in place. Was there something that you could have done different, better, faster? It is okay to acknowledge mistakes and failure, but only if you learn from it. You should be constantly reviewing your actions and decisions to determine how to be a better startup. Speak with your customers, iterate and then deploy your product again with better functions and features. This constant customer and product development process will save you tremendous time and effort in the long run.

Therefore, whether you are an aspiring entrepreneur or a small business owner, use these lessons to provide your startup with the best chances for success. Dealing with your competition, customers or press is not always an easy task. Consider what an athlete would do, and you may find your business running a better operational, public relations and customer service strategy. Therefore, instead of using the old-fashioned expression “What would Jesus do?” ask yourself, “What would Jordan do?”



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