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Chemistry Matters: A Business Lesson From Jerry Krause and the Golden State Warriors

In spite of my horrendous physique, I am a basketball guy. I still manage to play a bit, albeit not well. I formerly coached and continue to love the game and its nuances, the skill and athleticism (or in my case, lack thereof) as well as the intellect behind the physicality.

Like any other arena, hoops has a number of schools of thought. Organizationally, I tend to believe in the paradigm of the late Jerry Krause, a former general manager and architect of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. He preached that players and coaches alone don’t win championships, organizations do. Krause was much maligned for his thinking by the greatest player in NBA history, Michael Jordan. But as much as I admire MJ, Krause was unquestionably correct.

After all, in sports or business, success is a product of a collective effort, the sum of the parts. The chemistry of those parts must work together in relative harmony to succeed. If you get it right and put the right pieces in place, success will follow.

Why are the 2017 Golden State Warriors perhaps the best team in NBA history? Simple answer: Chemistry between four all-star players and a very strong supporting cast. They stretch the floor, move the ball around the court looking for the best shot on most possessions, play solid defense and rebound on both ends of the floor. They’ve put the right pieces together who willing to set egos aside and work in concert, effectively playing their respective roles — and they just won their second NBA championship in three years.

Life is rather similar in business — just fewer 6’9 guys making $10 million per season.

No man or woman is an island and the ones who think they are tend to fall by the wayside quickly. Innovative ideas and strong creative concepts are an aggregate of team thinking. Teams must work well together, have a shared vision for how to accomplish the challenge at hand, and understand and accept different interpersonal work styles and customs along the way.

For example, two years ago we began working with the University of Illinois and the cities of Champaign and Urbana on a campaign to raise the region’s profile of innovation, which is highly impressive but little known outside of U of I graduates and residents. I came up with a big idea we called “You’re Welcome,” but it took the team to develop the strategy and execute on the plan. Rachael Powell developed the social strategy, Nick Walden and Ryan Stiles created an approach to content, Emily Ann Brown developed a targeting strategy, AJ Fontana and Dave Vislosky developed the website, and Andy Barnett – who is far more detailed than I – made sure all the moving parts were executed in unison and ensured we remained accountable to the client for results.

Chemistry is significant. The pieces must work well together, in unison. Does that mean each individual must agree on every little detail of an approach delivered to a client and that the team should party together every day and night? Of course not. But there’s a yin and a yang, and if working well it produces business results.

Mark my words: As much as I revere MJ, Jerry Krause had it right. And if you don’t believe me, just watch the Warriors’ chemistry run most teams out of the building.




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