Paths to Success

I'm more of a college basketball fan, but lately, I've been watching some NBA playoff games. And now that the finals are upon us, we get to see the world's best basketball player in LeBron James against the world's best shooter in Steph Curry. 

There's a really interesting contrast here. LeBron James was anointed as the next Michael Jordan in high school and some of his games were televised. He was 18 years old when the Clevland Cavaliers drafted him first overall. He was an MVP in Cleveland. Took his talents to Miami and won two championships. This year, he returned home to Cleveland to try and win a title for his hometown. And now he's led Cleveland to the finals to compete for the organizations's first NBA championship.

Despite the fact that he was the son of a former NBA player, Steph Curry didn't have a single major college scholarship offer. He was considered undersized by most programs. He played his college ball at Davidson near Charlotte, NC and made a name for himself in the NCAA tournament. He worked his way through the ranks, proving himself at every step along the way. And he's now led his Golden State Warriors to the NBA Finals. 

One player took a direct route to success. Another took a more circuitous path. And while it makes a great story, it doesn't really matter. These two world class athletes took different paths. But now, they are in the same place. We tend to focus on the path someone has taken to succeed. But there is rarely a single path to success and that's a great thing.

Some people are obsessed with corporate paths to success. They downplay the victories for companies they don't like or understand.

Look at consumer's perceptions of Apple and Google. Apple fans hate Google's tendency to give products away and make money via advertising. And Google fans lament the perceived high cost of Apple products and their limited customization. Apple's been around since the 1980s, grew fast, crashed and then grew into the most valuable company in the world. Google was founded in the 90's, started fast and continues to expand into new markets. They have taken different paths to success, but they are both successful. Yet, commentators discount their successes because they don't like or understand the path they have taken.

Other people are obsessed with paths to individual success. Getting into the best colleges. Belonging to the right organizations. Having the right things on their resume. This pressure starts very young. My kids have educational opportunities that didn't exist for me.  Inquiry-style preschools. Magnet elementary schools. Enrichment programs. But the result of this is that everyone is focusing on the "right" path earlier and earlier. 

In the design world, I hear these all the time. You've got to go to a big market to be successful. You can never grow in an inhouse environment. You've got to work at an agency or large design firm before you strike out on your own. Someone actually once told me that I'd never get any where if I didn't learn Flash. And while some of these bits of advice might be the most direct way to achieve success, it is by no means the only way to become successful.

You can't completely disregard the path someone takes. It helps shape them and make them the person they've become. But we can learn something from Curry and James. Your path doesn't really matter if you are focused on your goals.

Just because you don't follow the accepted path doesn't limit what you can accomplish. And if you do follow the direct path, it doesn't minimize your accomplishments. Two amazing basketball players -- Lebron James and Steph Curry -- that have led their teams to the exact same place via two very different paths. But this week, they are both competing for an NBA championship.