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Justin Caldbeck of Binary Capital: What I Learned About Entrepreneurship From Playing Duke Basketball

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What I Learned About Entrepreneurship From Playing Duke Basketball pixabay

When I walked-on to the Duke Blue Devils Men’s Basketball team during the 1998-1999 season, I accomplished something that the national media regarded as nearly impossible. Considering the roster of future NBA stars on the Blue Devils team, it seemed laughable that I, a student manager for the basketball squad just a year before, would be given the chance to play on the same court as those who had been scouted out and meticulously selected for this nationally-recognized team; but, nevertheless, there I was, lacing up my sneakers and donning the blue and white jersey with the best of them.

While the media only saw the miraculous, against-all-the-odds story of a non-scholarship student making the Duke Basketball roster, what they didn’t get a chance to see was all the work, planning, and preparation that went into achieving that feat. The lessons and mentalities that I put into practice to achieve my goal of making the team, where the same lessons and mentalities that I cultivated and perfected throughout my time on the team, working in the fine-tuned machine of Blue Devils Basketball. And yet, I used those lessons and mentalities once again when starting Binary Capital and beginning on my entrepreneurial journey.

Safe to say, my time as a part of Duke’s basketball team taught me some important lessons, but even more than that, the experience provided me with the opportunity to work on one of the most efficient teams one can ever join, working under one of the best coaches to ever live. This unique combination came to me at a pivotal point in my life, and this provided for the valuable lessons I learned to have a lasting and substantial impact. Below are some of those practices that I found most beneficial in both entrepreneurship and teamwork.

Time Spent Planning Is Never Time Wasted

All the talent in the world will absolutely go to waste without a solid plan. It’s a common theme in the corporate world to see someone with a great idea fail because they don’t have a solid, or sometimes any plan at all. While there may be a little voice inside you telling you that time spent planning is time wasted because it is non-generative, that voice is wrong. Planning will always increase the success of a project, no matter the field or size. The planning stage of any project is where mistakes and miscalculations first appear, and it’s the stage where those mistakes can be fixed with absolutely no cost or waste. Every machine has a blueprint, and every well-thought-out project needs a plan. Whatever you want to accomplish, writing it down on paper will make it more real and will get you started down the path to accomplishment.

Allow Everyone To Work To Their Strengths

Another example of how talent can go wasted is by trying to make someone, or something, work without considering how its unique quirks and attributes might change the situation. That is to say, recognizing and being flexible to your work staff, and workplace, is essential to working as an efficient team. A helpful quote to remember is one by Einstein: “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” In basketball terms, Shaquille O’Neal would have thought he was a horrible basketball player if you’d asked him to play point guard. To combat the inevitable stuckness of working in a group, sometimes when a project isn’t coming together, the best thing to do is to mix up the pieces, re-assign, and give everyone new perspectives. This can be done in a number of ways, both literal and figurative, but the basic point of doing this remains the same: to allow everyone to work to their strengths. Everyone is a master at something , sometimes it just takes a good effort to find out what that something is.

Time Management is Essential

The game-plan is always going to change depending on what the clock looks like, and two minutes to go is an extremely different mentality than the first quarter. With more time comes more room for creativity and embellishment, but be wary of wandering into territory that could be considered gaudy or saccharine. With less time comes more urgency, but remember that some people really do work better under pressure (though this is not an excuse to allow procrastination.) Regardless of how much time remains to complete a project, awareness of that time is key. Make sure that your well-thought-out plan lines up with how much time there is available to complete that plan or you will be severely disappointed.

Learn to Listen and Take Direction

Basketball is just one sport that uniquely pairs individual talent with mental skill and execution. While the players all have to individually run their routes and make their shots, they are ultimately all just cogs in the working machine of the team, executing the plans of the man calling all the plays, the coach. Getting to work under the legendary tutelage of Coach K will always be one of the accomplishments I am most proud of, and I know that I would have not been able to learn a thing from Coach K if I hadn’t been able to close my mouth, open my ears, and take directions.

Look in Unexpected Places To Find Success

Often the answer to a problem is hiding in plain view, and is only temporarily invisible to us because we are caught in our own way of thinking. Always be striving to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and develop a different perspective. Sometimes it’s the last guy on the bench who is the only who can make the final play, and the coach would have never seen the solution if he’d remained stuck in his old, ingrained way of thinking. Success is always hiding in the places that are obscure or heard to reach, because that is where others have not yet dared to trod.

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