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The Sky Hook: Making the Most of Change

Unexpected change can hurt your game, or it can be a tremendous opportunity, depending on how you respond to it. That is one of the messages in John Wooden’s brilliant bestseller, Wooden on Leadership, and it’s a point that jumped out at me when I read the book, partly because my colleague, Jared Nichols, often says the same thing. Jared is a futurist (learn about Jared here) who has an incredible ability to prepare for the unpredictable. Both these men say that disruptions outside your control can actually give you an advantage–if you are prepared.

The Sky Hook

One of the stories Wooden tells is about the development of the sky hook.

In the late 1960’s, Lewis Alcindor, Jr (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) of UCLA, relied heavily on the dunk shot. But then, at the end of the 1967 season (a season that Alcindor dominated and helped UCLA win a championship), a new rule outlawed dunking. You can argue about why the change was made (because Alcindor was dominant), but whatever the reason, Alcindor had to change the way he played. He could have whined, complained, and made excuses. But he didn’t. Instead, he developed an ambidextrous, long-range version of the hook shot that was so high it was literally unguardable—the sky hook.

He basically said, “you won’t let me dunk? No problem, I will develop another shot that will make you wish you never changed the rule.”

In my industry of life insurance, we see the rules change, too. For example, estate tax—basically, the government sets a level where, if your assets are above that level, your heirs will owe a tax on their inheritance. The lower the level, the greater the need for life insurance, but the level goes up and down for political reasons. I could give plenty of other examples, too. So, how do you come out on top when the rules keep changing?

Preparing for the Unforeseeable

Both on the court and off, whatever industry you’re in, the one thing we know will happen is the unexpected. Maybe a new rule changes the whole industry. Or maybe it’s something more local–your company changes your comp plan overnight or fires your mentor without notice. I once returned home from a vacation only to learn that my employer had suddenly shut down our business. So, what do you do?

1. Stay positive

You can crawl into a corner and cry woe is me, but that wastes time and energy and meanwhile your competition could be getting ahead. It sounds trite, but a positive attitude really is key for turning a challenge into an opportunity.

2. Stay flexible

If you invest everything you have into a single, winning strategy, you could do really well—until the rules change. Then you’ll have nothing. A better approach is to do what works, while constantly exploring other possibilities that might work, also. Learn new skills, stay up to date in your industry, get out and network, and try out new ideas. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar learned the hook shot long before 1967, after all.

3. Stay aware

Research surrounding markets and keep an eye out for developments that could interfere with your industry. You don’t want to be the last buggy-whip maker to hear about the automobile or the last punch-card machine operator to find out about desktop computers! In my industry, if an agent doesn’t realize that banks and financial advisors are selling life insurance now, they are in trouble. Some changes are completely unpredictable, but often, if you stay aware, you can spot the signs early and start to plan your response.

In 1967, college basketball outlawed the dunk shot and Alcindor and the UCLA Bruins (coached by John Wooden) went on to win back-to-back national championships (3 in a row if you include that 1967 year). Out of a total of 90 games played, that team won 88!

How will you prepare for change?


Photo By Malcolm W. Emmons (The Sporting News Archives) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons