The most important lesson from yesterday’s national championship is that to be truly successful, you must always be working to improve. Last year, when Kentucky won the national championship, I wrote a piece on how it highlighted the importance of recruiting great talent. This year the lesson is that great leaders (and I definitely put Pitino in that category) never take a break on working to make their organizations better.
What was particularly illuminating was Rick Pitino’s (the coach of Louisville) comment this morning during a radio interview that he “broke down” tape already from the game. For those who are not sports, or basketball, fans, a coach spends the majority of his time watching tapes of his games so he understands what his team is doing right and wrong and tape of opponents so he knows their strengths and weaknesses. Pitino’s need to break down tape highlights several things:
- The goal is continuous improvement. Pitino could easily have felt he achieved his goal by winning the championship and stopped. Instead, he showed that the key is continuing success, his watching film was for the purpose of being successful again next year. For game companies, rather than basking in a success, you need to focus on how you are going to be even better next year because your competitors will be getting better.
- Don’t focus on the small victories. Although it is often important for morale to celebrate smaller successes, it often creates a feeling of complacency. These days, people too often celebrate relatively trivial successes (“We cleaned the kitchen; donuts for everybody!”). I remember how Indiana cut down the nets after a loss (again, for non-fans, cutting down the nets is what a basketball team does to celebrate something like a championship) because they had co-won the Big Ten (because of another team’s loss). Indiana was nowhere to be seen during in the last few rounds of the tournament even though they had more talent than Louisville. Although Pitino celebrated the National Championship (and should enjoy it), he tempered it with a focus on improving.
- It takes work to be great. Pitino may have a great basketball mind but he achieved this level of success (this is his second national championship) because he watches film all the time. If you look at the most successful coaches (and businessmen), it’s not the smartest leader who wins, it’s the one who is always working to improve. The most brilliant Harvard or Stanford graduates who fly in and out of their ventures might have a few small successes, but they are not going to create the type of value as their competitor who puts everything into always getting better.
Along with being a great basketball game, yesterday’s Louisville victory showed the value of dedication and hard work to building something great.