The legendary basketball player Kobe Bryant died today in a helicopter crash outside of Los Angeles. He was already a topic this weekend with LeBron James overtaking his long-time scoring record - and James giving a beautiful, post-win speech honoring Bryant last night before his unexpected death. What's most interesting about the life Bryant lived, however, is his dedication to his craft.
Focus on the process
Sports trainer Alan Stein, Jr., shared how Bryant would begin practice at 4 am every morning. The key, though, wasn't the early regimen. It was what he practiced.
For the first 45 minutes, I saw the best player in the world do the most basic footwork in offensive moves. Kobe was doing stuff I routinely taught to middle school-age players.
Later, Stein got up the courage to ask Bryant why the best player in the world was doing the most basic moves:
[Bryant] smiled and said, with all seriousness, "Why do you think I'm the best in the world? Because I never get bored with the basics."
Your foundation is all that matters
I call this The Jackson 5 mentality: You stay ready so you don't have to get ready. I talked about Michael Jackson and the legendary musical family when the patriarch, Joe, died:
The Jackson 5 had to be ready to perform at the drop of a hat. At the barbershop? Sure. At a family get-together? OK. In a meeting with Motown? Where's the mic... It's a waste of time to wish for a better circumstance or a big break if you don't have the foundation to take advantage of it when it does come. As Jim Rohn once said, "If you wish to preside over a lot... you have to be disciplined when the amounts are small." Build your strength when the risk is minimal and you'll be prepared when you get a rare opportunity to shine.
For Bryant, it may have meant dribbling for hours, doing a thousand layups and sinking three-pointer after three-pointer in a silent gym. For the Jacksons, it meant being so prepped that they can harmonize instantly. For professional public speakers like myself, it means knowing your topic, talk and audience so well that you just need to focus on being present.
It is the power of habit. You create excellence out of habit. You can't make a habit out of excellence.
Knowing your worth (and remembering how you got it)
Like Bryant himself, the act of mastery feels like a constant partnership between humility and grandiosity. Yes, I am excellent at what I do. And yes, I need to work every day to be my best, just like everyone else.
And he seemed to understand the riddle most people don't: Getting success, accolades and praise makes it more important to keep your practice up, not less.
There are two big dangers with being the best, nevertheless just good. First, it's much easier to build discipline when you're hungry - in some of our cases, literally - versus when you can relax. This may seem obvious.
Second, and perhaps less clear, is that success will absolutely change your viewpoint. You're focused on every new customer, nailing each presentation and mastering your product, but then success shifts your focus to managing many customers, formulizing the presentations and mass producing your product. You shift from intimacy to systemization. It's what the also recently departed Clayton Christensen touched on in his classic, The Innovators's Dilemma.
Your success isn't a problem, but it does require that you remember the basics. Bryant's approach followed the greats before him - and helped him become a legend himself.