Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers (center) and president Rick Welts (right) speak on championship culture.

Image: Conner Forrest/TechRepublic

Basketball champions. Vegan mayonnaise makers. Satellite builders. If you were to try and deduce what these three professions have in common, you’d probably be left scratching your head. However, they all share a passion for how they built their businesses.

On Tuesday, September 15, the opening day of Salesforce’s annual Dreamforce conference, the 2015 NBA champion Golden State Warriors, imaging satellite company Planet Labs, and food technology company Hampton Creek all took the stage to share their stories of what they focused on when building their businesses.

There are some key tactics that IT and business leaders can learn from them. Here are some of the highlights from these keynotes.

Championship culture

The Golden State Warriors went from a fairly unsuccessful franchise to winning the national championship in 2015. Rick Welts, president and COO of the organization and general manager Bob Myers spoke on how they focused on creating a championship culture.

Much like it is in many organizations, success for an NBA team like the Warriors starts with the people. Myers said that when they sign a contract, they are guaranteeing that individual millions of dollars and they have to make sure the player can perform and also can play well with the team.

“We have to get the people part right,” Myers said.

Playing well with the team is key. It’s one thing to work well among your immediate colleagues, but it’s another to work well with the people outside of your bubble. When building your culture, consider how employees will work within the organization as a whole.

For example, Warriors’ point guard Stephen Curry is well know for thanking not only his immediate teammates, but the team’s equipment manager, security guard and others in his MVP acceptance speech. This was genuine, Myers said, and if you care for the people you work with, you will accomplish more.

Another point made in this keynote was for business leaders to not be afraid of listening to employees who may be “lower on the totem pole.” Listen and be open, they may have an idea that can move the business forward.

All in all, your team must be striving towards the same goal so that all the people in the organization are on the same page. Welts called this “commonality of purpose.” He quoted the late basketball coach John Wooden who said:

“It is amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit.”

Risk and reward

Before Will Marshall, co-founder and CEO of Planet Labs, walked out onto the stage, a video played showing a rocket launch and subsequently explode. That rocket was carrying more than 20 of his company’s imaging satellites.

“Getting into space can be hard,” Marshall said with a chuckle.

Every business has its risks, for some it’s losing a major client, for others it’s a rocket explosion and the loss of a bunch of satellites. For Marshall, mitigating risk means spreading satellites out across different delivery vehicles. As a business leader, you must understand the risk landscape and how it may change over time in your business.

Some of the standard satellites in operation today weigh as much as three tons and cost almost $1 billion. So, Marshall and his team had to find a way to scale down the process so they could meet their goal. By using the latest technology, they were able to make capable satellites that you can hold with two hands. By lowering the investment in the product, they lowered the risk posed by each satellite.

The market itself also plays into the amount of risk your organization is facing. In the case of Planet Labs, the interest in the space market is growing. In 2012 there was only

$82 million invested in the market, while nearly $1.2 billion was invested in 2015. As a business leader, understanding the market will help you better understand your risk.

In understanding risk, you should also work to identify key challenges your specific business is facing and how you will respond to those challenges. For example, Marshall said his company faced three specific challenges:

  1. An average one year launch delay means Planet Labs had to look to even more vehicles to get their satellites off the ground.
  2. A rocket ride with a shock load of 200G and extreme temperatures meant that the team had to build their satellites to handle all that it would be put through.
  3. NASA has around a hundred people supporting one satellite, Marshall said, so Planet Labs had to scale the process so they could monitor their satellites with a smaller team.

Additionally, be on the lookout for new ways to accomplish similar things. By using a certain kind of launch vehicle, Planet Labs will be able to launch 150 new satellites — the most launched at one point ever, breaking the company’s own previous record of 30. So, is there a technology or tool out there that can help you innovate on some process?

Starting over

“What would it look like if we started over?”

That’s the question Josh Tetrick, founder and CEO of Hampton Creek, asked of the food industry before starting his company which produces plant-based food products. Tetrick grew up in Birmingham, Alabama below the poverty line and he said he lived at the intersection of a vending machine, a 7/11, and a Burger King.

Typically, it’s understood that unhealthy food tastes good and is cheap, while healthy is often expensive and perceived as unpalatable. The majority of our processed food comes from soy and corn but Tetrick said there are more than 400,000 of plants that we could be looking at.

If we step back look at that 400,000, Tetrick said, there are a plethora that can be used to make all types of new foods that actually taste good and are affordable. As a business leader, consider approaching software and tools the same way. Look beyond the traditional parameters of your industry and its platforms.

Another consideration for starting over is how you are communicating. Tetrick took out full page ads in the New York Times to address specific customer sets and people groups such as their industry partners, young people, and great grandmas. Consider how you are communicating and what impact it is making.

Finally, as you consider starting over, think about what you are doing in your organization to enable work. If you started over, is there more you could do to empower your employees.

“Good people will do good,” Tetrick said. “Just make it easy.”

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What an NBA championship, making cookie dough, and imaging satellites can teach us about business