12 Unexpected Business Lessons From Basketball Superstar Earvin “Magic” Johnson

May 12, 2015 James Thomas

“Magic Johnson, you say? What does he have to do with business?”

Magic, besides being a basketball legend, is a very successful venture capitalist. He has raised over $600 million to go towards funding businesses in the urban sector, such as Starbucks, the Magic Johnson Theatres and so on.

He gave a stunning keynote address at the SiriusDecisions 2015 Summit, a popular conference where B2B marketers go to accelerate their business growth faster than ever. And the crowd was HYPED. (As was he, running around the room taking selfies with attendees!)

Thousands and thousands of tweets exploded onto Twitter within a one hour span using the hashtag #SDSummit making reference to his inspiring, down-to-earth presentation.

Here are some of the key take-aways the team and I learned:

1. How Many People Can You Help Become Successful?

As the time-tested adage goes, “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.” (Zig Ziglar). Now, more than ever, this idea of “reciprocal altruism” – people wanting the best for each other – is more effective, more desired, and more expected from businesses than any other time in history. You could almost say we’re entering a golden age of ethical business practices, personality and transparency. Here’s a picture of Magic working the room…

2. Become a Force of Nature

All the greatest people in history, from Napoleon to Da Vinci to Dr. Seuss, have had extreme levels of persistence, strong force of will, and endurance. At the end of the day, can you persevere over any perceived limitations others try to set on you? If you can, and when you do, you’ll silence them… temporarily. Just keep going. And when they try again, you just persevere through that, and eventually they’ll have no choice but to accept you as an unstoppable force of nature. How Earvin Johnson became the legendary “Magic” Johnson:

As a side note, the nickname “Magic” was given to him by a local reporter in Lansing, Michigan. Earvin (now referred to as “Magic”) didn’t believe it would stick. It stuck.

3. Competitors Make You Better

(If you could) just ask Darwin. He’d be the first to admit that when you’re put under enormous pressure from your environment, it will either be your downfall or a stimulus to innovate faster, become sharper and more efficient, and to motivate you to get things done on-time (and before your competitors do). For Magic, Larry Bird was the competitor that kept him on his toes throughout this career. He admitted fully, he wouldn’t be the player, or man, he was without Larry (as much as he hated him). Don’t fear competition–embrace it. While competition isn’t always pleasant, you can’t deny that when you’re in an arms race for the better product, having a competitor will almost certainly make you a better performer.

4. The Secret Sauce: Know Your Customer And Over-Deliver

Magic started out founding Starbucks coffee chains in urban areas, a place nobody thought they would stick. In fact, even Starbucks was skeptical at the start. And you know what? If Magic had opened a Starbucks with the exact same product offerings as suburban locations, they probably wouldn’t have stuck. But Magic knew his customers and listened to what they were asking for. He got rid of the scones and served up Peach Cobbler.

The Starbucks locations he opened became among the most profitable Starbucks in the world.

“I think there’s a consistency between our business and what he was talking about today. Over-deliver for your customers. Know your customers. It’s what we believe in at Allocadia and what we practice everyday. It’s inspiring to realize how aligned we are with someone as successful as Magic!”
– Amanda Ovenden, Marketing Director, Allocadia

6. Do the SWOT

SWOT Analysis means:


Do your research, and if something in these categories rears its head (which it inevitably will) then seriously consider how that will affect your business and how you need to make decisions based on this information.

And more importantly… SWOT yourself!

As marketers, startups, CEOs and businesspeople, we’re busy people. Often we’re so caught up in executing good ideas or studying other people that we forget to study ourselves. What Magic is saying is that we need to have a level of introspection and self-awareness. Don’t let bias cloud your judgement and try to see yourself rationally, and how you stack up realistically in the real world. And while you’re evaluating yourself from a business standpoint, it might be a good time to ask yourself… “Are you still bringing the same passion you did when you first got your job?”

6. Bring The Passion, Every Single Day

Passion is first and foremost an instinct. Whether it’s a habit you were trained to perform since birth, something you discovered, or however you found it – it’s something inescapable. You think about it when you’re at work, when you’re off of work, in the shower, in the car. Wherever you are, this passion seems to trail you. You’re almost captive to it. And when Magic says things like, “Even if I’m successful, I’m not satisfied,” that just adds more fuel to the fire. He’s almost like a lion that loves to hunt. The process is just as important as the prize. So when things get tough, as they always do, you have to remind yourself to keep bringing the passion and that fire over and over. You’re doing it because you love it, in spite of (or maybe because of) all the hardships. In the end, passion makes it worth all the effort you put forth.

7. Know How Your Customer Will Behave TOMORROW

It’s not enough to know how people used to behave. You have to have foresight and vision, and that’s what creates a great business. People used to ride a horse, but Henry Ford had enough foresight to understand that cars would be a far more popular mode of transportation.

People’s habits change. They often bemoan the necessity to change, but 9 times out of 10 efficiency will win in the end. You have to be constantly re-evaluating who your customers are and what they need, and in turn, how your strategy aligns to deliver it.

And just as often, your audience will tell you what they want. You would be remiss not to listen. If you understand what they truly want, and you deliver it to them, you can’t go wrong.

8. Use Your Strengths To Build MORE Strength

Keep in mind, even though Magic Johnson is a smart guy and a very successful basketball player, that doesn’t mean that he had any business reputation to stand on.

Fame might get you a response, but quality service and quality products get you the keys to a Ferrari… or a good connection, a sustainable business, more money to good causes, whatever your mission is.

In Magic’s case, he was seeking knowledge:

He actually cold-called LA Lakers season ticket holder CEO’s to ask if he got mentored. If that’s not motivation and humility, what is?

Remember The SWOT Analysis? It could definitely help here. If you know your strengths and weaknesses, it will point you directly to the areas that you need some help with. Even if it costs a bit more on the front-end to hire a CEO or a manager or an expert, if you hire someone good, it will pay dividends in the back-end.

Magic used business mentors to fill in the gaps for him, and it made all the difference to his success.

9. Speak Your Customer’s Language

The buzzword way of describing this is to “speak their native tongue” as coined by Gary Vaynerchuk. Both Magic and Gary agree that on different platforms, you use different terms and different vibes and different types of content. Defining your target market is the first step, and then from there, find out where they are. If they’re on social, what platform are they using? Are they using mobile? Desktop? Email? The answers will vary depending on who your customer are, but knowing this will ensure you are not marketing to deaf ears and can invest in the areas where you have a better chance of reaching your market. Magic knew his target market (urban minorities) was accessible via phone and radio, as well as the community, and so he directed his marketing efforts in these directions. What good would it have done to have put up billboards in suburban shopping malls when his target market was not in these spaces?

10. Understand WHY You Lost

Losing sucks, yes. (If you’re anything like Magic, you come only to win!) But to understand why you lost and be humble enough to take the lesson is another thing entirely. Take the time to debrief after a loss, and identify the causes, so that you can make changes and adjustments in future situations.

Magic told the story about when he first opened up a sporting merchandise store, and he acted as the buyer and the owner. A few months in he realized his errors when he wasn’t making any sales. He had no experience as a buyer, and had only bought things that he liked, as opposed to buying what his customers wanted. This was an important lesson for him and has shaped how he has done business for the rest of his career.

11. Only Run With Winners

Your mentors need to be winners. Your peers need to be winners. Your staff, the people who support you, they all need to be winners. They don’t need to be perfect, none of us are perfect, but they need to support you and be excellent. There’s a certain class of people you shouldn’t surround yourself with. Like people who complain too much, or make too many excuses, people who are poison to your mentality and resistant to change, or who invent rules for things that don’t make sense. They say things like, “Well, it’s never been done that way before, so we shouldn’t do it.” Well, why not? You don’t need to be around those people. Surround yourself with people who are kind, generous, intelligent and pleasant to be around and above all, people that challenge you. When you do this, you not only grow as a person, but you can grow your business, have clearer thoughts, build a strong emotional base, make better decisions, and generally live a more charmed life.

12. Know Your Team

Good leaders help their team members reach their potential. Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric famously said, “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”

Leadership is about challenging your team, pushing them, rewarding them, motivating them and inspiring them. Leaders are the ones that create the “winning attitude” within their organization, as Magic did with his high school basketball team.

Do You Believe In Magic?

Magic was and is a big believer in customer-centricity in business (as are we at Allocadia). He knew the urban market wanted the same luxuries and comforts afforded to other parts of the city. Knowing that, he then put in the work day after day, passionately pouring his efforts into raising capital, then over-delivering on each project.

Magic Johnson is a real-life example of what it takes to be excellent, at sports and in business. It takes dedication, persistence, passion and self-awareness to see the kind of success he has seen in his career. And you can see the same success by applying these lessons.

The post 12 Unexpected Business Lessons From Basketball Superstar Earvin “Magic” Johnson appeared first on Allocadia.

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