Mark Cuban and Zach Lowe

Mark Cuban (@MCuban) joined Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) on the Lowe Post podcast to talk about a bunch of NBA things that were not solely NBA things. This blog is all about learning from people smarter than me (some of them a lot smarter than me) and Cuban and Lowe fit the bill.

Cuban has talked with James Altucher, owns the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, and stars on the TV show Shark Tank.  Lowe writes for Grantland.com and approaches sports more like a smart friend from work, rather than your drunk cousin.

Though there is a basketball flooring to their conversation, the topics bounce around enough that we can learn something.

Let’s go.

Not so fast breaks

The interview begins and Cuban tells Lowe that he’s on vacation with his family. This little banter to get things started was almost inconsequential until Cuban said:

“You go on vacation so you can crystalize your thinking about basketball and team building without as many distractions.”

To which Lowe added, “you have to get out of muck.”

A popular idea now is that we need to go, go, go, and be on, on, on and constantly connected. In his book, The Best Place to Work, Ron Friedman makes the case that we need breaks to realign our thinking. If we successfully disconnect, we’ll lower our chances of burnout.

We also might do better work. When Leslie Perlow worked with Boston Consulting Group, she found that when people disconnected, their clients actually felt like they were getting better work.

To a lesser degree, Maria Popova points out that we should examine the work of Henry David Thoreau who wrote:

“The really efficient laborer will be found not to crowd his day with work, but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure. There will be a wide margin for relaxation to his day. He is only earnest to secure the kernels of time, and does not exaggerate the value of the husk.”

Thoreau isn’t the only writer from history that praised breaks. The book, Daily Rituals, is full of examples like Benjamin Franklin, who worked in two four-hour blocks during the day.

Hindsight bias

Cuban is a vocal owner in the NBA, and as such he gets more than his fair share of criticism. Often this revolves around player personnel choices. Bill Simmons routinely teed off on Cuban’s choices of overpaying for a player to play the center position. But in this interview Cuban at least mutes the critics if he doesn’t silence them all together. Mostly because we forget good choices too quickly.

You see, points out Cuban, everyone forgets that sometimes his “dumb” decisions become “decisive” ones. For example, in 2008 the Dallas Mavericks traded for Jason Kidd, a player many thought past his peak. It wasn’t a popular move and Lowe points out, “you got crushed for that.”

“Yeah I did,” Cuban says. It was bad enough that when his team played against the player they traded, he scored over 40 points and the crowd cheered, “thank you Cuban,” in mockery of the mistake.

The chants were for the crowd, but the last laugh was for Cuban, who won the 2011 NBA championship, which included Jason Kidd.

Our short term memories tend to forget this. Later that year the team added some “head cases” that turned out poorly. Stop again, says Cuban. Fans and writers gleefully point out two players that didn’t work out, but they forget the ones who did. Monta Ellis and Jason Terry are two examples – Cuban says – of players where things turned out well, but these examples never came up when the failures were discussed.

Cuban’s comfort comes from knowing that every decision won’t be a successful one. Ramit Sethi brings up this idea too – know your numbers. There will be X% of trades/deals/ventures that don’t work out. Your job isn’t to make X = 0. Your job is to figure out what X is and then go from there.

Find your opponent’s weakness (Colonel Blotto reporting for duty, Sir!)

Cuban bought the Dallas Mavericks in 2000 for $285M (the team is now valued at $765M by Forbes, but Cuban would “laugh” at anything less than $1B). At the time, he tells Lowe, many teams in the league needed money – and Cuban had it. He was able to buy draft picks from other teams because those were the rules of the game.

Now that game is different. There are upper and lower spending limits for the teams and they need to adapt. They have figure out what battles to fight.

Michael Mauboussin introduced Colonel Blotto in his podcast with Shane Parrish. The essence of Blotto is that if you are more powerful you want fewer battlefields. If you are less powerful, you want more. Fewer battlefields allow stronger players to apply their overwhelming resources. Think traditional war, races for President of the United States, and airlines services.

More battlefields allow weaker players to win areas that strong players ignore. Think guerilla war, races for congressional districts, and email services.

In the NBA one of the new battlefields is advanced statistics. There, teams with fewer financial resources (like, the Houston Rockets) were able to accumulate victories. Competition there was sparse, so while teams with a lot of money (the Los Angeles Lakers) focused their resources on something else, the smaller teams won on the battlefield of advanced statistics.

Another area – that’s been well-trodden by now – is scouting. The San Antonio Spurs have had success because of the slew of international players they were able to find. A decade ago there were only three battlefields for scouting; big and small colleges and high school. The Spurs didn’t have the resources to “win” there, so they found a new area they could.

Cuban tells Lowe that with the new rules about team building and salaries, his staff is looking for new battlefields where they can pick up some wins.

Good addict, bad addict

Addiction funneled the right way seems to be a net benefit to people. Cuban was addicted to learning and money. Lowe is addicted to the NBA. Tim Ferriss and Jane McGonigal both said they need to keep certain video games away because they can take over their lives. Elon Musk had video game binges that could go on for days and which his roommate would have to intervene. Rich Roll said he was addicted to alcohol, food, and exercise (sequentially).

Steven Pressfield writes:

“There’s not that big of a difference between an artists and an addict. Many artists are addicts, and vice versa.”

If you find yourself with addictive tendencies, channel them wisely.

General decision making tips

Mark Cuban says that on Shark Tank he starts from a position of why he shouldn’t take the deal. The people pitching have to overcome a certain burden of proof before he’ll get involved. He also says that the longer the investor story or pitch, the worse the deal.

These are nice additions to our other decision making tips:

  • Seymour Schulich says only to take the deal if it’s 2X as good as the status quo.
  • James Altucher says to only do something if it’s a “Hell yes!”
  • Michael Mauboussin says to start with base rates and use Daniel Kahneman’s techniques.
  • Brad Feld and Stephen Dubner say to slow down and avoid “Go Fever.”
  • Peter Thiel asks, can I create a monopoly with this?
  • Howard Marks and Ray Dalio say to think of second level consequences. For example, when a lower gang member started diluting crack and pocketing the bonus, his superior J.T.  had to decide how to act. Should he beat the crap out of him and set an example, or should he go easy because this kid was thinking and showed initiative? He settled on financial pain, but told him that that sort of thinking was good.
  • Nassim Taleb says we should judge decisions not on outcomes, but on their logical sequence when they were made.

How to sell garbage bags

When he was a kid and wanted new shoes, Cuban said his dad made him work for them. A family friend said that Cuban could sell garbage bags – so that’s what he did. The pitch, he tells Lowe, went like this:

“Hi Mr Lowe, do you use garbage bags? I’ve got some great garbage bags. I charge six bucks for a hundred of them. The great thing about these garbage bags is not only do they work, but instead of you having to worry about having them, I’m going to keep track of when you need them and bring this box of a hundred garbage bags whenever you need them. Is that worth six bucks to you?”

The richness of this statement – refined many years after the fact I’m sure – is that it has good sales inbedded in it.

  • Cuban opens by getting a “Yes,” and that’s like setting dominos in motion.
  • He goes on to talk about the emotional appeal of garbage bags – they free you from worry.
  • Finally, he simplifies things so the customer only has to say “Yes.” It creates a low bar for the customer to clear.

These extractions (and many more) are from the Cialdini books, Influence and Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive.

Thanks for reading. I’m @MikeDariano on Twitter. Even though this post is about Mark Cuban and Zach Lowe, the only reason I started writing this blog was because of James Altucher. James gives some of the best advice on living, learning, and earning.

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