The best basketball player in all the land is not named LeBron James. His name is Stephen Curry. It’s pronounced “STEFF-in,” not “Steven,” or “Steph-on.” If you ever meet the Warriors sharpshooter in person, you could probably stick to “nice to meet you, Steph,” and be just fine…

I thought a lot about Steph this week, not only because one of my colleagues is a diehard Warriors fan who grew up in Berkeley but because another one of my friends told me the almost unbelievable story of how Nike lost Steph to Under Armour:

“The pitch meeting, according to Steph’s father Dell, who was present, kicked off with one Nike official accidentally addressing Stephen as “Steph-on.” “I heard some people pronounce his name wrong before,” says Dell Curry. “I wasn’t surprised. I was surprised that I didn’t get a correction.”

It got worse from there. A PowerPoint slide featured Kevin Durant’s name, presumably left on by accident, presumably residue from repurposed materials. “I stopped paying attention after that,” Dell says.”

If the above passage is in fact true, it surely must go down as one of the greatest PowerPoint failures in business history. And mispronouncing Steph’s name? What a shitty first impression.

Even more surprising is the offender: Nike – one of the world’s greatest brand and content machines. With a world class team of marketers, graphic designers, and communicators, you’d think Nike would have put a process in place to avoid the above embarrassment.

Here’s the thing. Smart people don’t wing it. They double check their work. They use “Find and Replace” in PowerPoint to make sure they remove Kevin Durant and replace it with Steph Curry. They practice their pitch over and over (and over) again. They seek out a second pair of eyes before they hand in their assignment. Those TED Speakers who impress and inspire us with their thoughts on the science of happiness or motivation don’t just take the stage and wing it. They put in the hours. That’s what the greats do.

But preparation and persistence aren’t the only ingredients for greatness. The secret ingredient is actually a strong support system. Surrounding yourself with the right team to provide that feedback and help us improve. Every strong writer has a strong editor.

In software development, we have QA. Imagine deploying code to a production environment without first simulating what may happen in a staging environment?

Non-technical professionals should approach their work in the same way. Don’t just hang out alone on an island with your latest case study, white paper, or pitch deck – waking up super early, skipping the trip to the gym, and rushing to the office to finish your slides and practice your transitions. Rely on your teammates. Bring them into the fold. Walk them through your thoughts and ideas. You may just find a new wrinkle that will catapult your work from “good enough” to excellent. Or you may just find a typo to fix. Either way, you’re ahead.

A Nike executive presenting a PowerPoint to Steph Curry with Kevin Durant’s name on a slide isn’t just a “sloppy mistake,” it’s a credibility hit in my opinion. And I think it’s (almost always) avoidable with a strong team around you.

Not detail oriented by nature? That’s OK – trust in your teammates. Share your work with them. Ask for feedback. That’s the whole point of a team. Steph may be the best basketball player in the world, but he didn’t get there on his own. His Warriors teammates Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have his back.

Before submitting that final presentation, make sure somebody has yours.

 

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