What the NBA Draft teaches us about strategy

This past Thursday was the NBA draft and for week or so leading up to it, you could not turn on a sports program without hearing the multitude of theories as to who was going to be selected first and why.  While the actual results of the draft are largely uninteresting, the process itself provided a fantastic lesson in the most fundamental rules of strategy…you cannot plan in a vacuum!

Helmut von Moltke, a 19th century German field-marshal, was credited with saying “No plan survives contact with the enemy.”  This was front and center during all draft discussions because underlying each teams’ strategy was their assumption on what all of the other teams would do as well.  At issue was essentially a poker game where each team was making bets on what they thought their opponents might do next.  This is why there is always so much activity during the draft itself because everyone has to react to the actions of others.

This is something we can sometimes lose sight of in business as we can become myopic and become so internally focused that we forget we are not alone.  Any strategy is essentially a bet on a particular future BUT that also includes a number of assumptions regarding our industry and our competition.  If any of these of assumptions are incorrect, then our bet might not pay off. This is why it is so critical that we hone our ability to scan the environment because ripples that go unnoticed can develop in waves and one of those might turn into a rogue wave and it only takes one of these to seriously ruin your day.

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