By Yvonne Milosevic
As a high school sophomore, Stephen Curry was as far from the image of an NBA superstar as you could imagine. At 5’6’’ and 125 pounds, he was the quintessential underdog underestimated by all. The Golden State Warriors point guard is now a two-time MVP who has revolutionized the game. When he leapfrogged past Ray Allen’s record for three-pointers in December 2021, Curry became the greatest shooter in NBA history.
Sure, natural talent plays a significant role in his success. But many would argue that Curry’s uncompromising work ethic has made him the player he is today. Elliot Weiss, professor emeritus at the UV Darden School of Business, recently analyzed Stephen Curry’s training process and has distilled three lessons he thinks business leaders should embrace.
Lesson One: Adopt a Kaizen Mindset
Kaizen is the Japanese word for continual process improvement. Lasting change requires discipline and dedication—something this pro athlete has in spades. Curry works relentlessly—and in many unconventional ways—to improve his handling of the ball.
For the curious, the Bleacher Report offers an in-depth look at some of the deep science and cutting-edge technology Curry uses to develop his perceptive powers. From training with strobe goggles to his regular floats in a sensory deprivation chamber, Curry is all-in on boosting his “neurocognitive efficiency.”
“I teach and write on continuous process improvement, the relentless pursuit of creating value,” Weiss explains. “We see Curry practicing this, trying relentlessly to improve.”
Lesson Two: Reduce Variability
In a business setting, variability can wreak havoc on product quality and customer satisfaction. It can also negatively impact revenue, cost, and margins. When you work continuously to improve your operations, says Weiss, you create strong processes to succeed even when unexpected variables show up.
“Accuracy is nice, but precision is even better,” Weiss says. “If you have a lot of variability, it’s hard to figure out what’s going wrong.”
By improving his precision, Stephen Curry strives for that same predictability. “He’s trying to make the process more robust so when factors emerge beyond his control, such as when he is tired or the crowd is yelling, he is still able to get the same output,” Weiss explains.
Lesson Three: Never Stop Innovating
Consider the fates of once-stalwart companies such as Sears, Nokia, Xerox, and Blockbuster. In every case, a failure to innovate led to its demise.
In the arena of basketball, the three-pointer was a rare event before the 1980s. Back in 2000, a mere 16.7% of shots attempted were three-pointers. That figure jumped to nearly 40% in 2020. In basketball, as in business, customers’ expectations continue to evolve.
“Here you have a fellow who is at the top of the game, realizing that standing still is not an option,” Weiss says of Curry. “He is still continuously improving based on data, effective analysis, and reducing variability.”
“We have a saying that quality is the only race you lose by finishing,” Weiss notes. “As soon as you stop improving, then someone is going to get better than you.”