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Ugly Progress Is Still Progress

Just Ask The Nuggets

I love basketball.

If you live in the Denver area, and we’re friends, you’ve likely gotten a text that said something along the lines of “ball?”

(Sorry to everyone that I text multiple times a week trying to play)

From the first few weeks of founding Pneuma, till today, basketball has been something I turn to to let out stress from a busy workday.

Until recently though, I’ve never drawn parallels between basketball and business, which leads to the post I’m sharing today.

Earlier this week, the Denver Nuggets won their first ever NBA championship.

And for the few hours directly after the game ended, all I could think about was how the Denver Nuggets championship run is full of great lessons about running a business.

And a few of those lessons stand out to me more than others:

Press Doesn’t Equal Success

If you follow the NBA, you’d be hard to convince a true fan that the Denver Nuggets are an “well-known” team.

Their coverage across the league is slim at best, and even throughout the playoffs, most of the coverage was focused on their opposing team, and how “they’ll find a way to come back”.

Take this as a fun example. Immediately after winning the Western Conference Finals, ESPN turned all their cameras to the opposing, more well-known team.

Now, this is less of a conversation about ESPN’s coverage of the Nuggets, and more about the similarity it draws to newly formed businesses.

It’s FAR too easy to get caught up in the “why are they talking about Company X instead of me?”

I’ve been guilty of it, and I’m sure you have to.

But, I think it’s worth remembering that press doesn’t equal success.

The Nuggets were one of the least talked about teams all season, but they still ended up with the NBA Championship trophy in their hands.

They even used the lack of press to their advantage as motivation rather than letting it get in their way.

Long story short, just because you’re a startup, doesn’t mean you’re entitled to press. Even if you’re a successful startup, you might find it to be a difficult path for anyone to talk about what you’ve been able to accomplish.

Completely ignore it, and focus on your business instead.

If the Nuggets are any proof, media coverage (or the lack thereof) has no impact on your company’s success.

The Grass Is Greener Where You Water It

The Nuggets did something that not many teams of recent NBA past have done.

They stuck with a core group of guys (who haven’t won a championship until last night) for more than a few years.

If you follow the NBA, you’re well aware that if a team doesn’t win a championship after a few years, trades happen, coaches leave, and new faces take center stage.

Not for the Nuggets.

One of their stars, Jokic, has been with the team since 2015. Since that time, they’ve been ousted from multiple playoff runs, leaving many Nuggets fans upset at the lack of immediate progress (classic sports fan, am I right?)

But, instead of jumping the gun and replacing the coach or their star, the Nuggets stuck with their core team on countless different occasions.

Take Michael Porter Jr’s multiple back surgeries, or Jamal Murray’s ACL tear - any other team in the league likely would’ve shipped those players off for new talent, the Nuggets doubled down and invested in their team.

In my consulting / holding co endeavors, time and time again I watch founders make a TERRIBLE mistake when it comes to building their team.

The first time a team member makes a wrong move, or impacts the company negatively, they’re gone. Fired. Let go. Sometimes even as soon as the same day.

What kind of winning mentality is that?

I don’t know about you, but hiring someone, only to let them go at the first or second “mess-up” is not only short term thinking, but an egregious lack of ownership around the outcome.

Use the Nuggets as a reminder - the grass is greener where you water it.

If you’re struggling to build a high-performing, best-in-class team, the answer is not often found in recruiting new faces for your team - it’s found in investing in the people you already have.

The only thing more impressive (to me) than building a successful company, is learning how to find, hire, train, and lead a group of employees to a successful outcome, through both highs and lows.

Ugly Progress Is Still Progress

Many times in a startup, founders want things to be perfect.

If you’ve run a company, you know that it’s simply impossible to run a perfect startup.

There’s too much “ugly” that makes its way on to the scene.

Last night, the Nuggets played game 5 of the NBA Finals. And while they won, it was arguably one of the ugliest victories by the Nuggets this season.

Across this whole season, the Nuggets shot 75% from the free throw line, and 38% from 3.

Last night, they shot 56.5% from the free throw line, and a measly 17.9% from 3.

In other words, they failed miserably at those two aspects of the game.

And yet, they still won?

See, basketball is much more than a team’s success from the free-throw stripe and three-point line. You have defensive strategies, offensive strategies, and plenty of accompanying tactics to put into play.

It’s no different than business.

Is your sales team’s close rate low? Focus on upselling new customers instead

Are you seeing less leads than normal? Focus on ramping up content production

Hitting a rough patch with one of your direct reports? Find a way to connect with them personally

I could go on and give plenty more examples, but the point I want to make is this…

Running a business is a gritty, unvarnished reality.

That is a given, and you can’t escape it.

Instead of crumbling under the weight of your business not being “perfect”, use that energy to find creative ways to react.

At the end of the day, ugly progress is still progress.

Some days you’ll feel on top of the world, other days you’ll feel like the weight of the world is on top of you - but as long as you can focus on making progress and finding wins in any area of the business, it’ll be hard to fail.

Just ask the Nuggets.