Written by Abe MaingiSenior Analyst, Kineticos

Brad Stevens, head coach for the Boston Celtics, is widely regarded as one of the top coaches in the world. Prior to joining the Celtics, Coach Stevens led Butler University to consecutive national championship games, and winning 77% of his college games. So far, his transition to the NBA in 2013 has been seamless.

Here are two takeaways from Stevens’ leadership style that I believe can apply to all organizations.

Although much has been made of his emphasis on data driven decisions. Coach Stevens himself has downplayed it consistently. In his opening press conference with the Boston Celtics in 2013, he said: “I think culture is the most important thing,” which is key takeaway number one: culture is a driving point.

Coach Stevens keeps a laminated card in his pocket with core values that he established at Butler: humility, passion, servanthood, thankfulness, and unity. He noted that he aims to apply these values everyday to his coaching, and to instill these values in his players as well.

Second, Coach Stevens talks about the importance of adaptability. While he was coaching at Butler, his teams played a very slow and conservative game. They were unlikely to rush shots on offense, or make mistakes on defense. Butler was unable to attract top-tier recruits, so they had to rely on a style of play that would optimize their chance of winning.

When he made the shift to the NBA, Coach Stevens found that he had a team full of young, athletic playmakers. Instead of fitting a square peg in a round hole, he adapted his tactics to better suit his team. For example, last year, the Celtics finished second in the league in steals on defense, indicating a shift to a much more aggressive defensive style than Stevens ran at Butler.

Even though running a biotech is very different from being the coach of a basketball team, we can still learn something crucial: high performing teams, regardless of industry, behave consistently. As Mark Twain famously once said, “History may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” So how do biotech and basketball rhyme?

For one, I think that we can all agree that culture is pivotal to the success of any organization. But what is culture? To me, it’s pretty simple in this context, and is captured in this question: “What is our organization’s purpose, core values and expectations?” HP has its “HP Way” (The HP Way). J&J has its version of this (J&J Core Values). One thing is for certain: every organization has a culture. Why not make it unique to your team and have it work for you?

Second, adaptability is critical. We work in an industry that is driven by risk and innovation; life sciences research is very difficult and ever changing. The occasional successes are punctuated by dramatic failures, (Opdvio Trial Failure) and just as in basketball, adaptability is key. For example, in many cases, a NCE may have multiple therapeutics. A NCE may fail for one indication, but work in another. Viagra was initially considered treatment for hypertension and symptoms of heart disease, but has generated tens of billions of dollars for Pfizer by treating distinctly different symptoms.

As industry dynamics continue to shift in the coming years, the importance of company culture and adaptability are two key factors in sustaining long-term success.

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Abe Maingi, Senior Analyst, is responsible for the delivery of customized solutions to clients across the life science ecosystem.  Mr. Maingi’s analytical mindset and problem solving skills help him execute on client engagements ranging from market research, strategy, and operational excellence.

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