Most people don’t instinctively look at the San Jose Earthquake’s goal box for Silicon Valley startup inspiration, but as a former goalkeeper and current Silicon Valley startup guru, it is this often overlooked position on the pitch that has helped me thrive in my startup career thus far. Speaking as one who has experienced both penalty kicks and pivots, breakaways and rebranding, set pieces and capital funding, I have turned often to the wisdom of my goalkeeper coaches to help get through some of the increasingly sticky situations those of us working for startups inevitably run into. Since college it has been goalkeeping which has given me the tools I needed to succeed in the startup workplace.
These are the most significant lessons I have taken from goalkeeping and applied to Silicon Valley’s world of startups, which has kept me both motivated and level-headed when the going gets tough.
1. Clean, concise communication is key
In soccer there are tons of distractions – crowd, coaches, arguing, referees. Throughout all the distractions, the goalkeeper must be able to keep a clear communication channel amongst the entire team.
Bottom Line:If in doubt, clear up details in person and make sure everyone knows his or her duty before any given ‘play’ takes place.
2. Lead, when needed
When between the sticks, all eyes are either scrutinizing the goalkeeper’s every move… or he doesn’t exist. One of the few times the keeper does not want to find himself between the posts is right after conceding a goal. The team is demoralized and heads are hung low. Teammates will invariably start placing blame, and everyone is looking at the player who slowly walks to the back of the net to retrieve the ball. In this moment, the team, the crowd, even the coach are all looking at the goalkeeper. How do you respond in the face of this type of defeat?
Bottom Line:In those few minutes following a setback or defeat, you have the power to respond positively, shake off an immediate failure, and inspire your team to get back on the offensive as soon as possible. Your actions will show that you’re not only the last line of defense, but the first line of offense. In essence, be a leader when the time presents itself.
3. Work harder than the other guy
Sometimes goalkeepers carry the stigma of being unfit and lazy when compared to their field-playing counterparts. In reality, when you take a look at any and all professional goalkeepers out on the pitch, you will be hard pressed to find a more fit and hardworking athlete (both physically and mentally) on any field. They must constantly work outside practice sessions on their reaction speed and ability to learn and understand their own reactions to every play that could come at them in a game situation.
Bottom Line:In startuplandia, startupers need to mimic this standard of work ethic. Like the American entrepreneur J.C. Penny said, ‘Unless you are willing to drench yourself in your work beyond the capacity of the average man, you are just not cut out for positions at the top.’ Stop talking about working hard and get your hands dirty!
4. Patience – be the Zen Master
Like a goalkeeper stalking a one on one, many times patience is the unwavering virtue that must be practiced to prevent a goalkeeper from jumping the gun and making a rash decision to slide too early.
Bottom Line:Many times we young people seem to think that projects should start and end in an instant with perfect execution, exact data, and useful conclusions. I have learned that expectation is far from reality. Try your best not to be frustrated because a perfectly executed project doesn’t start and end in the time it takes to post an instagram photo. It takes time. Be willing to devote significant time to your work. Relax and keep checking items off your to do list. You’ll get there.
5. Accept failure as part of your lifestyle
One of the hardest parts about being a goalkeeper is keeping your wits, accepting that you are going to fail. You are going to get beat, often multiple times a game, and the only way to keep the debilitating poison of discouragement from affecting your abilities in the next play, is to accept the fact that you are going to fail.
Bottom Line: Face failure head on, and don’t be surprised when it happens. Many times businesses are so caught up with the act of failing that the small window to respond with an alternative solution quickly passes the team by. A perfect example of how to handle failure correctly is Instagram’s latest Terms of Service debacle. In every sense, that change was a complete and utter failure, yet the team immediately responded with clarification and a revised press statement which quickly hushed the outcries of users. Which leads me to my final lesson…
6. Allow yourself to learn from each and every mistake
Some of the worst blunders I’ve caused in goal are, to this day, ingrained in my head. I can replay the missteps, the incorrect technique, the atrocious timing….all of it. Luckily I learned at a young age, that the best way to prevent future goals against is to learn from your previous mistakes.
Bottom Line:When your team or project or idea do fail, it’s important to be able to learn from the mistakes along the way. Do a project post-mortem, and determine where the points of failure were. Publish these clearly documented lessons internally for everyone to see. From these failures, innovation rises, leading to overcoming the problem, and ultimately, success
Brian LaFaille works at Silicon Valley startup Luminate, where the web’s images are becoming interactive. For more information on how Brian can help budding startup-ers achieve their goals, contact him here.
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