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My thoughts on the Giannis “failure” conversation

After a 1-4 series defeat to the Miami Heat, Giannis Antetokounmpo was asked if he considered the season a “failure.”

Giannis’s response to the question is a much discussed topic in the world of sports and beyond.

Here are my thoughts.

You can watch Giannis’s speech above, to help with the conversation.

Before I discuss my takeaways, I want to acknowledge that Giannis delivered his thoughts off-the-cuff, without a prompter, after playing grueling basketball for 40 minutes, and in his second language.

It is easy to analyze his every word after the fact, but I want to acknowledge that my goal is to comment on his words, without judgment on exactly what he said.

How do you define success and failure?

In the interview, Giannis asks the interviewer if he considered his year a failure if he didn’t get a promotion.

I understand where Giannis is coming from here. A natural expectation for success is that you get a raise or get promoted at a job. A natural expectation for success in the NBA is winning a championship.

The important point here though is, what are you basing your success on? What are your goals for the year? What if your goal is not to get promoted but is to learn a new skill? What if your goal is to be a better parent?

Giannis speaks to this later on, when he talks through a number of life goals that one might strive towards.

Measuring success or failure with goals

In order for something to pass or fail, you need to understand what your goal is and then strive towards it.

Some goals are binary, and some require more conversation.

For example, “win a championship” is binary. You either win the championship and succeed or you don’t and fail. “Get to the playoffs” is another goal, and one that is binary.

But there are some goals that require measurement.

Using Giannis as an example, a goal like “become a better free throw shooter” is one that requires more information, or measurement. In this example, you could say, “improve my free throw shooting percentage to 75%” or “have the best free throw shooting percentage of any year in my career.”

Setting realistic goals

Setting binary goals or goals that require measurement is one thing, but the next is, is this goal even attainable for you and you alone?

“Win a championship” is a more noble sounding goal than, “improve my free throw shooting percentage to 75%,” but it is also less singular.

Giannis was injured early in the first playoff game. He AND his team weren’t poised and strong enough to overcome it.

Ask yourself, what goals are you setting in your workplace that fall on a team to succeed, and are you setting yourself up for failure?

Selling $1,000,000 of a given product is measurable, but it might not be attainable if there is a recession or if the market shifts away from that product.

Was Michael Jordan’s career a failure?

So, with that in mind, was any season a failure, where Michael Jordan didn’t win a championship?

Michael Jordan would probably tell you, “yes,” but it is really based on what his goals were.

I say, “no.” When Jordan got to the age where basketball players hit their “prime,” he won three championships in a row. But again, maybe that wasn’t the goal.

Failure exists, and it is okay to fail

Giannis downplays failure in general, but failure exists, and it is good that it exists.

If 32 teams have a goal to win the one championship that exists, there is only 1 success and 31 failures.

It is a really hard goal to achieve.

What is important is, what do those 31 losers do when they fail? How do they respond? How do they learn? How do they grow?

Recently, I missed a work deadline. That is a failure. I responded by ensuring that the follow up deadline was hit without issue and with a high quality product.

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