The Popovich System for Economic Policy
In 2010, when he announced “the decision,” Lebron James set two new standards in professional sports: a new low for over-hype, and the modern model for a winning basketball team. Teamed up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the Miami Heat lured James and officially launched the “BIG3” era in the NBA.
Fans can argue over whether this was the first team built around a BIG3, but it’s clear that 3 Superstars + a few role players = NBA Championship quickly became everyone’s idea of the formula to build a winning team.
Everyone except the San Antonio Spurs. They showed how a thoughtful and disciplined system can build an NBA dynasty.
Yet despite the Spurs’ domination of the Heat, the BIG3 business model persists. Reporters and sports enthusiasts have made many excuses—injuries, a weak set of role players, and the Spurs’ “will to win”—to explain the Heats’ fail-peat; the model hasn’t come under real scrutiny.
I’d posit an alternative hypothesis; we should consider the San Antonio Spurs system as the better model for business .
R.C. Buford, the Spur’s GM, and head coach Gregg Popovich have come up with five principles that guide the Spurs. I believe policy makers should follow these principles to create a globally competitive economic policy, and businesses should use these principles to be competitive in the world’s big leagues:
- Hire multi-capable employees who prefer working as a team, rather than chasing superstars. Build them into a team with an innovative, demanding, and devoted CEO.
- Hire a global work force, and make sure your HR department appreciates differences, and knows how use new skills to the company’s advantage.
- Use analytics and large data sets to discern insights and find small advantages that build up over time. Be technologically agile, even in your old-school business.
- Build business operations on mutual accountability, adaptability, and sustainability.
- Implement a systematic workforce development plan built on full participation and mentorship.
To guide the next set of business winners, Central New York employers and politicians have to follow coach Popovich’s example. Stop trying to get BIG3 stars—manufacturers like Carrier, GM and John Deere—and instead systematically build on our local entrepreneurial skills. There are people who choose to work hard and stay here, and we should work to connect them into an economy.
They should look at Northside UP, an organization leveraging the energy and enthusiasm of the immigrant community to start new businesses, just as the Spurs have leveraged the international experience of Ginobli, Parker, and Diaw.
My own startup, Ecologique, is working with the city of Syracuse to help build more sustainable housing that improves the neighborhood’s property values while creating an environment of mutual support, just as the Spur’s System demands mutually supportive actions on the court.
Syracuse University has been a great resource for mentorship, and a source for an ever-renewing workforce. All the universities in Central New York are magnets for talent from around the world, and CNY businesses should definitely look to the University not just for interns, but for full-time employees and entrepreneurial partners who can knit together new digital skills that make the region more technologically adept and agile.
Nothing embodies the potential more clearly than the startups in the Syracuse Technology Garden. Companies like Rounded and PlatypusTV are starting to bring data intelligence to old business practices, and have the potential to grow not just themselves, but the local economy.
Central New York has the ability to be economic winners. We just have to get past the BIG3 mentality and use the talents and energy we have in abundance. And maybe find our own version of coach Pop.