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The Unfortunate Truth About Failure (The Current State of the 76ers)

June 26, 2015

This morning, the day after the 2015 NBA draft, I wake to the reminder that success is comprised of three things:  1) thoughtful planning, 2) flawless execution and 3) luck. That third component is the piece that makes control freaks so uncomfortable, as it’s disquieting to think that you can play your cards the right way, and yet still fail.

Some of the most successful people I know credit their extravagant fortunes in great part to good luck. Granted, half the time it’s an exercise in false modesty; but the other half of the time, I think the people really mean it.  Regardless, in all cases, it’s true. So it goes with businesses, institutions and, as is most relevant to this morning’s musings, sports teams.

I’m talking here about the Philadelphia 76ers and my apologies to all who find the subject trivial. But I promise you, there are life lessons of the highest magnitude in the team’s recent history from which all can benefit.

In short, if this is new to you, the team has undertaken a deliberate, multi-year strategy of reducing their chances to win games in exchange for enhancing their chances of garnering valuable assets through the draft. I call it courageous because that’s how I characterize acts of short-term sacrifice for long-term gain in a world that is all about immediate gratification.

In my view, assuming the goal is a legitimate shot at multiple championships, the strategy is sound, at least in a market like Philadelphia, as any other path brings with it a higher-likelihood of perpetual mediocrity. In executing against the strategy, they have made the right moves given their options, like shrewdly parlaying good players into multiple future assets (e.g., Jrue Holiday, Elfrid Payton) and taking a long view on high value players in the draft that others passed on (e.g., Noel, Joel and Dario).

Both the above assertions are topics of legitimate debate, but for another forum.  The point here is that, even as somebody who is in agreement with the Sixers’ plan and process, I admit today that I think it’s not working out. While I think they have tilted the risk / reward equation in their favor, the ball has not bounced their way, leaving them with a centerpiece of a player that may never reach the court and a glut of players who share a single position.

Which brings me to 3 life lessons to take from the Philadelphia 76ers:

-Failure is a possibility even with proper planning and execution. It’s almost a guarantee without it. So prepare diligently and act with discipline

-Pick a path that reduces the role of the uncontrollable. There is none that eliminates it.

-Write bad luck into your business and life plan and build in enough contingencies to overcome it.

Daniel Erlbaum, CEO

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