Since October of last year, Kobe admirers started making pilgrimages across the country to catch a final glimpse of Bryant — one of the most polarizing figures in sports. His legacy will be debated in barbershops for years to come, but one point of consensus is that Kobe’s work ethic places him in a small pantheon of entertainers and athletes. That same tireless work ethic will guide the overtime phase of his career.
Here are three takeaways from Bryant’s exit strategy that can help guide your next move.
Establish Relationships Beyond Your Sector — Embrace The “Cold Call”
At the age of 18, Kobe received a phone call from MJ. No, not Michael Jordan — it was Michael Jackson. Jackson invited Kobe to visit the the Neverland Ranch to discuss the criticisms that were plaguing Bryant’s nascent career. Both teammates and members of the media were deriding Bryant for being introverted and too consumed with the game of basketball. Bryant accepted Jackson’s invitation and spent an evening learning from the King of Pop.
That cold call from Jackson prompted Kobe to incorporate the practice of “cold calling” into his life. He began to reach out to trendsetters across the globe with an unusual combination of tenacity and humility.
Bryant’s first target? Giorgio Armani. Bryant wanted to learn how the fashion designer was able to build a global brand at the age of 40. That conversation kickstarted a steady diet of cold calls that Bryant would make to people that he admired and wanted to learn from — a list that includes Arianna Huffington, Hilary Swank and Oprah Winfrey.
Let’s face it, neither you nor I could get Oprah to pick up the phone. But, the important takeaway is to identify the change agents in your next venture space and pursue them with reckless abandon. When I was looking to transition from Harvard Law School to the sidelines of the NFL, I wrote letters to every team in the NFL. (Note: There are 32 teams.) I received 31 rejections before the Kansas City Chiefs extended an training camp internship to me. The lesson: You only need to win once.
Create A New Routine And Follow It — Now
The tendency to take a prolonged period of time off can be tantalizing. When asked whether he would visit the gym the day following his last NBA game, Kobe’s answer was unequivocal. “I have to. That’s a very slippery slope. I’ve done my research… I think the important thing is to get into a routine, to maintain discipline and find a new routine. I have been in a certain routine for my entire career, and the worst thing I could possibly do is not have one.”
Bryant’s lesson is invaluable. Failing to have a routine is the first step to planning to fail. The key to making a successful transition is to translate the discipline from one endeavor to the next.
Focus On Storytelling
Paul Zak, a professor at Claremont Graduate University, has conducted extensive research into the power of storytelling. In his article, “Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling,” Zak illustrates how a compelling narrative triggers the production of oxytocin. Oxytocin is produced when a speaker engenders trust. Production of this neurochemical spurs feelings of empathy. The ability to incite trust and empathy are the building blocks of convincing others to believe in your mission.
Kobe Inc. is Bryant’s next challenge. The company will help to grow, “brands and ideas that challenge the sports world.” While this language makes great material for company brochures and PowerPoint presentations, it is meaningless unless there is an underlying story that compels people to act.
“What my passion is now is creating the story,” Bryant said. “Creating the story and finding the best possible way, the medium which that story can live. Some stories will be created… others reality-based,” he said. “But we will look for content that inspires a generation of people.”
Bryant’s playbook has shifted from taking jump shots to telling stories. Perhaps, the most important lesson from his career is simply this: The best way to build momentum and create a movement is to tell a good story.