Mark Cuban is Right: Never Listen to Your Customers

mark-cuban-nbaMark Cuban is the perfect CEO to praise in this Game-Changer Blog. In his book, How To Win at the Sport of Business, Cuban conveys the essence of a game-changer mindset with these two points:

  • “Never listen to your customers.”
  • “Creating opportunities means looking where others are not.”

Cuban contends that asking customers what they want doesn’t improve a company’s competitive positioning. Customers make comparisons with existing products and service. They rarely offer insights for conceiving innovative solutions to compromises that everyone reluctantly tolerates. There’s an enormous gap between comparing what exists and inventing one-of-a-kind innovations.

When Cuban’s company, Audionet offered streaming audio and video over the Internet, no one thought streaming was legit. No one was looking to discover what Cuban calls “the ultimate cure for home sickness.” Streaming turned out to be a home run with customers.

An entrepreneur’s job is to invent the future. Don’t delegate that responsibility to your customers.

How do you go about detecting customers’ needs if you don’t listen to them? In this blog, I will engage in a creative thinking exercise I’ll call “Pretend I’m Mark Cuban.” This exercise demonstrates the quality of thinking needed to conceive game-changing opportunities for his basketball team, the Dallas Mavericks (or any sports franchise for that matter).

MY SECRET SAUCE—THE LEARNING-WHILE-WORKING PROCESS                                    

To discover hard-to-detect customer needs, you must solve compromises customers are dimly aware of but not expressing. For example, Amazon conceived a more efficient and less expensive way to purchase books than going to a store. Starbucks offered a place to hang out between home and work, rather than competing on the cost of coffee per cup or can. Notice how these innovations alter the basis of completion in a given industry. So what is a value proposition where the Mavericks and other sports franchises don’t consider for gaining a competitive advantage? How about talent development?

Before embarking on the Pretend I’m Mark Cuban exercise, I want to briefly share my game-changer innovation for developing elite talent. None of my clients ever asked me, “Art, can you help us design a work process to enable our team members to build capabilities in the midst of getting daily tasks done?” I haven’t had a single request—not one. Apparently, reinventing the work process isn’t an obvious source for performance improvement.

My customers’ solutions involve increasing random acts of training and development. Send people to training. Have their boss provide coaching or mentoring sessions. Offer periodic developmental assignments. Conduct performance reviews more than once a year. Basically, do more of the same conventional approach. Unfortunately, there’s no time to do these activities with greater frequency if current workloads are to get done. In Mark Cuban’s terms, I’ve found an aspect of talent development where others have stopped looking.

Game-changing innovation requires adopting a unique vantage point to solve a perplexing problem. So my solution, The Learning-While-Working Process emanates from the counterintuitive belief that abundant learning opportunities occur in the emerging circumstances of every workday. I encourage clients to adopt the viewpoint, “All there is at work, is time to get better.” Consequently, I teach leaders to orchestrate a rhythm of triggering events and job-imbedded development routines so employees continually improve their skill proficiency and expand their capabilities while real work gets done.

I will use the customer needs solved by this innovation, the Learning-While-Working Process, as the basis for detecting growth opportunities for the Dallas Mavericks, without listening to their internal customers (managers and employees) or their external customers (sports fans and business-to-business marketers).

PRETEND I’M MARK CUBAN—AN EXERCISE FOR APPLYING LEARNING-WHILE-WORKING TO A SPORTS TEAM

I don’t know the inner workings of the Dallas Mavericks. I’ve attended a game in my client’s luxury suite in American Airlines Center. I notice Mark Cuban and company focus on creating an audacious game-day experience for basketball fans. They also invest resources in drafting top athletes and developing their physical capabilities. Unfortunately, every other sports franchise operates with the same goals and basis of competition. Most sports franchises aren’t looking to bring a superior talent development process into their front office, and not even their team’s coaching staff. In this Pretend I’m Mark Cuban exercise, I’ll offer provocative challenges to the Maverick’s key executives by applying my Learning-While-Working Process.

Challenges for the Team President, What if our front office staff knew how to practice and develop our employees to elite performance standards like our basketball coaching staff does with our players? For instance, our basketball team constantly refines basic skills for their positions, while we assume that once the office staff gain sufficient experience they’ve mastered the basics. Second, the Maverick players and coaches know how to practice to achieve second-nature skill proficiency, while our office staff rarely practices in a way that requires being out of their comfort zone. This lack of knowledge about elite practice methods means accepting slightly better than just-got-out-of training skill competence for performance standards.

We don’t have an extraordinary approach to management development, so we settle for less than all-star caliber managers. Since our front office staff can’t conduct skill practice drills for hours at a time, what’s if we design a work process filled with occasions to build capabilities while normal workloads get done?

Challenges for the VP for Sales & Marketing. What if you could provide season ticket holders and luxury suite owners an extraordinary year-round value proposition beyond the game day experience? Imagine if our benefits package to these valuable customers included services, like networking events and seminars, to improve their business? As business leaders who are basketball fans, they’d be thrilled to learn how their favorite sports team’s player development process can be adapted to develop their company’s leadership team. They could also share this valuable learning experience with their key customers who they invite to games.

Challenges for the Head Coach: What if you found an efficient way to develop the coaching staff’s capabilities to elite standards like you do with your players? How effective is your coaching staff in performing the following developmental tasks?;

  • Designing your practice sessions and meetings so the coaching staff (not just the players) improve month by month throughout the season
  • Developing players as locker room leaders who become an extension of the coaching staff
  • Conceiving performance analytics for coaches to assess their improvements in formulating game plans, executing game-day strategy, and improving player performance.

Challenges for the General Manager: Besides offering the league’s most luxurious locker room facilities, what can we offer to visiting players who might become less expensive free agents to entice them to want to play for the Mavericks?What if wedevelop an unsurpassed player development system proven to help bench players become starters, and starters to become all-stars?

Challenges for the Director of Player Development. Employing a sports psychologist to counsel individual players is a viable approach to curb performance slumps. Unfortunately, it’s a remedial approach to correct an already existing problem.

If athletic performance is a combination of natural talent + proper mechanics + mindset/perspective, then many basketball players play with only two of the three factors—not even close to their peak performance. What if the mindset mastery needed to produce consistent near-optimal performance became a core competency in our player development system? Coaches would be responsible for teaching players the mental skills for focusing attention and relieving stress in the heat of competition.

There’s one game-changing implication that saturates this creative thinking exercise: What if the Dallas Maverick’s organization became the most prolific sanctuary for developing talent in the sports industry?

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN—BRING A GAME-CHANGER MENTALITY TO YOUR ORGANIZATION

Don’t bother listening to your internal customers in search of novel talent development best practices. Instead try these two steps.

  • Step 1: Adopt the counter-intuitive perspective—“All there is at work is time to get better.” How can you teach people to derive learning and engage in skill practice during phone calls, staff meetings, PowerPoint presentations, even breaks between meetings?
  • Step 2: Apply the line of questioning and provocative ideas I used in the Pretend I’m Mark Cuban drill to detect unmet needs of key managers in your company. What provocative questions could you entertain to stimulate fresh thinking?

What if you brought a game-changer mentality filled with audacious ideas for talent development to your team members? You’d accomplish more talent development in one month than you currently do in an entire year. You’d groom business all-stars while your competition merely produces competent role players.