Failing to Prepare is Preparing to Fail, and Other John Wooden Advice for the Innovation Community (and Everyone Else)

If you know me, or have followed some of my increasingly sporadic posts or tweets, you know I love sports. Few people know, though, that I was a physical education major in college—part of a double major with psychology, it being the mind-and-body ’70s. I was either going to be a basketball coach or a journalist.

Obviously, I chose journalism. But it won’t surprise anyone to learn that I took notice when John Wooden died last Friday. He was the greatest basketball coach in history, everyone says, citing his 10 national championships at UCLA, including seven in a row. But to the extent that’s true, folks are citing the wrong reason—and Wooden would have been the first to agree with me.

Being a great basketball coach has nothing to do with how many championships you win or your win-loss record. It has to do with how well you coached. Did you make the best of the situation you were given? Did you help those you coached get better and make the best of their abilities? Did you help your players learn the core values of hard work and teamwork that serve them well in life and in their dealings with others? Wooden happened to be a great coach by conventional yardsticks. But his true greatness came from his ability to help players fulfill their potential, and from the lessons he taught them about life. As one person (a former player I didn’t recognize, I am guessing) in this ESPN video says, “He might have been more like a Methodist minister than a basketball coach.”

Along the way, Wooden uttered many platitudes and pithy sayings that expressed his philosophy. After he died, I found myself digging them up and poring through them. I couldn’t help but see them as relating incredibly well to entrepreneurship and innovation, although of course they relate to life in general. So I’m sharing my favorites here:

—“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

—“Never mistake activity for achievement.”

—“Be quick, but don’t hurry.”

—“Success is never final. Failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.”

—“Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”

—“It’s about what is correct, not who is correct.”

—“Things turn out best for people who make the best of the way things turn out.”

—“It isn’t what you do, but how you do it.”

—“Happiness begins when selfishness ends.”

—“Sports do not build character, they reveal it.”

—“You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”

I’m sure there will be a John Wooden sayings book coming out. I hope they give the proceeds to a good cause.

Bob is Xconomy's founder and chairman. You can email him at Follow @bbuderi

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2 responses to “Failing to Prepare is Preparing to Fail, and Other John Wooden Advice for the Innovation Community (and Everyone Else)”

  1. George McQuilken says:

    I love this post, good work Bob. I’m passing it on via Facebook.