Just do what works

In 8th grade my basketball coach was constantly correcting me because I didn’t have the correct form when I shot the ball. I’m right handed, and my right elbow bowed out to the right side when I shot. He told me it should be directly below my hand. He showed me several examples of college and professional players that shot with the correct form. “You need to have your elbow in, like this guy … and this guy … and this guy!” I kept trying to change my shot, but it was uncomfortable didn’t feel natural to me. It really upset me because had convinced me I needed to follow his formula to achieve success, but when I shot that way I missed the basket most of the time.

Then, by an amazing stoke of luck, I got to spend a Saturday morning alone on a playground park with David Thompson. David played for N.C. State in the 1970’s and is widely regarded as one of the best players ever in college basketball. (Injuries and substance abuse cut his professional career very short, but he did make the All Star game four times and once scored 73 points in a game). David was long-retired when I met him, but still made shot after shot after shot as he went around the perimeter. And here’s how he shot the ball…

After watching him shoot with his elbow bowed out, I asked why he didn’t use the “correct form.” He said, “I just do what works.” I went back to shooting my way from that day forward. I wasn’t going to follow somebody else’e formula for success in basketball, I was going to do what worked for me.

Several years ago, we published a book, “Restaurant Owners Uncorked.” It’s a collection of interviews with 20 successful restaurant owners. When we started working on the book, I wanted to uncover a formula for success – a common set of rules or philosophies that all 20 owners shared. My hope was to be able to weave it all together and tell the readers the formula they should follow to succeed in the restaurant business. I had high hopes and looked forward to figuring it out.

After doing all of the interviews I realized I was trying to be like my 8th grade basketball coach. “Do it like this guy….and this gal…and thus guy, and you’ll succeed.” But here wasn’t a shared formula, no common thread. In fact those owners all did things so differently that it was refreshing to see how you can be successful in the restaurant business so many different ways. Some of the owners have a top-down leadership style. Some have a very collaborative approach. Some spend a lot of money on advertising. Some spend nothing. Some of them carefully manage every financial detail. Some don’t use a single spreadsheet. Some lay out specific rules and processes for employees to follow. Some give them rules of thumb and trust they will do the right thing.

After 41 years of life and 15 years in the entrepreneurial world as a part of two successful startups (which followed very different paths to success), one thing I’ve learned is there is no formula for success. Not in basketball. And certainly not in business.

Just do what works.


If you like this post, you might also like “Blaze Your Own Path” which Wes wrote six years ago and is still one of my favorite posts on our blog.