Golden State Warriors’ Four Lessons on Finding Your Competitive Advantage

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Every leader is looking for a competitive advantage. We analyze business models, speak with consultants selling “the next big thing,” and delve into industry best practices all in the hopes of finding the magic bullet no one has ever considered. When someone does find it, we (and every other thought leader) beat ourselves up for missing something so obvious. Such is the story of the Golden State Warriors.

The Golden State Warriors just finished the NBA regular season with the best record of all-time—73-9—surpassing Michael Jordan’s 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls. In addition, Warrior’s superstar Stephen Curry finished the regular season with a record 402 3-pointers and Coach Steve Kerr won NBA Coach of the Year.

For anyone trying to propel their success, it is worth asking how a team with a 35-year losing streak transformed themselves into a NBA powerhouse. While some seasons were better than others, until five years ago, no one identified the Warriors as winners. Then the new owners came up with a less-than-revolutionary idea—what if we concentrate on 3-pointers?

Focusing on this niche plan may seem obvious, and I’m sure others tried it, but no one has utilized this system more effectively than the Warriors. Just as the masterminds who purchased the failing franchise turned it around, we must enhance our ability to spot a niche, which is simply determining the ways we can compete differently. Here are four things we can all do to make the most of our next opportunity and utilize that niche.

Remain Objective. The Warriors’ executives placed a strong emphasis on statistics. They found quantifiable evidence to support their new emphasis on 3-pointers: research showed that NBA players made roughly the same percentage of shots from 23 feet as they did from 24; the only difference was that the 3-point line ran between these distances.

Lesson: We need to collect similar measurable data to find untapped opportunities without being obstructed by unsound, emotional leanings.

Remain Open. When exploring potential advantages, the Warriors did not decide to focus on 3-pointers and then collect supporting evidence. Instead, they performed a deep dive into the endless supply of statistics before finalizing their plan.

Lesson: Brainstorm with an open mind to avoid an unconscious predilection towards reinforcing your own ideas.

Don’t Rely on One Top Performer. To put their plan into place, the Warriors knew they needed to build the team around Stephen Curry so he could take more 3-pointers. However, they also knew that most 3-point-shooting teams had one superstar surrounded by a collection of talented supporting players. This created an opening for Klay Thompson who was an excellent shooter and could take some defensive pressure off Curry.

Lesson: Finding one top performer is great, but to have a real competitive advantage, you need a team of top performers… and they must we willing to work together.

Believe in Your Plan. Before the season began, the Warriors had a chance to trade for one of the league’s premier players, Minnesota Timberwolves’ Kevin Love. While many would have jumped at the chance, the Timberwolves wanted to trade for Klay Thompson. Because this was a deal breaker, the Warriors passed.

They kept asking for Klay, and we kept saying no. We weren’t going to trade Klay, and they weren’t going to do a deal without Klay.—Joe Lacob, the Warriors’ primary owner

Lesson: Once you have a master plan in place, you must retain a dogmatic determination to see your plan to fruition.

We are all on the hunt for innovative solutions that will propel our business. Some solutions are cutting edge, but most are an attempt to get back to the basics. Dig through your data points to find missed opportunities. Involve key members of your brain trust on the treasure hunt. Maintain an open dialogue to continue on the path towards constant improvement. And remain vigilant for your Golden State-like golden opportunity.

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