“I skate to where the puck is going to be not to where it’s been.” – Steve Jobs. This was what Jobs mentioned as he introduced the iPhone to the world. It’s a peak into what made him – and Apple – a tremendous success. It’s the frame of mind that most successful website owner have whether it is carried consciously of in their sub conscious. Job’s actually borrowed this quote from ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky. According to Wikipedia, Gretzky has been dubbed by the NHL (National Hockey League), sports writers and professional hockey players as “the greatest hockey player ever”. And this is rightly so as he holds six All Star records, 15 play-off records and 40 regular-season records. Upon retirement he was inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame immediately. It is this that inspired Steve Jobs to take qualities that Gretzky possessed and apply it to his business.
The question then is how do we learn to skate where the puck will be? By studying Gretzky’s life, we can apply the same principles that propelled Gretzky and Jobs to great heights in the hope that our websites will achieve the same level of success.
1 – Focus on your strengths. Hockey is a contact sport where being a player who is strong and fast would mean having the upper hand. A player can check his opponent in order to win possession of the puck. But Gretzkey’s athletic abilities, strength and size where below the NHL average. When his early team – the Edmonton Oilers – would conduct physical tests for its players, Gretzky would finish last. But one thing that Gretzky possessed better than the others is that he can read the movement of players and the puck at any stage of the game. And because of this uncanny ability to read the game, he is able to get to where the puck will be and avoid getting checked by his opponents.
The same principle can be applied when taking your website – or online business – to new heights. If you are having problems taking your website to the first page of search engines because your competitors have bigger budgets and better understanding of SEO, then look at other ways you can reach a wider audience. Do you have a good social media followers? Can you write articles so that other websites with a large audience will publish your writings? Knowing what your strengths are means when it comes to building your site means taking inventory of the various channels to capture your audience and objectively assessing which of these channels you can use & develop quickly. This same principle can be applied to improving your product. In the case of Steve Jobs, the Mac would have a hard time competing against a Windows desktop as the latter has capture 90% of the desktop market. And because Apple has a great pool of programmers, Jobs needed to look for another channel – or channels – where he can take Apple to new heights. With improvement in mobile and smart phone technologies, he can see that there are more people using mobiles than desktop computers. He also saw that software is an integral part of mobile phones. And with this realization came the birth of one of the most successful products in the 21st century which is the iPhone.
2 – Follow a mentor. Gretzky was blessed to have a great mentor – and it was his father Walter. It was his dad who taught the young Gretzky how to be a smart hockey player. He built a ice hockey rink in their backyard and it was the senior Gretzky who taught Wayne to skate where the puck will be. Although his father was not a professional hockey player he was smart enough to possess the ability to mentor Wayne really well. He built obstacle courses in the hockey rink where his children would have to skate around and flip the puck at a very young age. And it was Walter who gave the advice to peel off from a player who had cut you off where most players would go against the player. He also had Bobby Clarke, also an inductee to the Hockey Hall of Fame, as a mentor in the sense that Wayne had watched Bobby’s plays especially the plays behind the net. Because he had watched and studied Bob really well that the area behind the net is known to be as “Gretzky’s office”.
Nowaday’s, with the emergence of blogs and forums, it has become easier to get a mentor. And the best mentors are those that have been there and have skated to where the puck will be. Steve Jobs on how he came about with the iPhone is a good study; Bill Gates on how he failed to make an early pivot on the internet but eventually developed Internet Explorer to compete with Netscape; Larry Page and Sergei Brin who failed to sell their idea to Yahoo but built one of the biggest IT business; these are all good examples on how to learn from technology’s greatest.
Mentors who have blogs and that are actively engaged in the IT industry would be a terrific resource in building your online presence. One class of mentors – VCs and Angels – need to skate where the puck is when investing in start ups and emerging technologies. Their livelihood depends on spotting what will be the next big thing that can solve people’s problems so that they can earn a living. An example of such mentors would be Fred Wilson. He wrote an article about how the trend is pointing towards mobile and smart phones based on the apps that he has been using and observing. There’s also Mark Suster, who complemented Fred’s article with an article entitled Web Second Mobile First. His point here is that the web is still an important focus and gave the example of Pinterest.com. By following his blog we then found out that Pinterest is now becoming a hot potential to get traffic.
And just like Wayne Gretzky’s father who did not make it to the NHL, there are other mentors out there who can complement a mentor with a proven track record. Just think of Matt Cutt’s blog when it comes to SEO and this website’s DNA section when it comes to anything related to developing & growing your website.
3 – Practice. Some attributed Gretzky’s success to some innate instincts that he has. But according to Gretzky, it’s all about practice. And that meant practicing the fundamentals that he has learned from his father. He would practice day and night with neighbours and by doing so he was able to “developed a deep understanding of its shifting patterns and dynamics” which is all stored in his memory. And thus, when an emerging pattern of play comes into existence, Gretzky can capitalize on this and put into play what he has practised.
How can this apply to your website? It can apply in many ways such as being mobile compatible and looking for ways to get more traffic. If you have tried to get your traffic from Digg, for example, then you need to understand that the pattern has shifted because Digg seems to be on a decline and other websites like Reddit are now the place to get your traffic. But if you want to skate where the puck will be then Pinterest will be the place to go. Another shift would be through mobile apps. Maybe article submission is not your strength but creating beautiful pictures that you can post in Pinterest or creating interesting quizzes as a mobile app will be the game changer for your website. So if your weakness is spotting these shift in patterns, then having mentors should help you spot them if not train you to spot them. As Wayne Gretzky mentioned: Who says anticipation can’t be taught.”
Practice spotting these shifting patterns and this could spell the difference between being successful online or going back to the drawing boards. The more you can spot these shifting paradigm, the faster you can react and formulate a better strategy. But going back to the drawing boards does not mean failure, as it can mean pivoting to shifting patterns that are happening online. This basically means that the puck has changed direction and you need to skate to different path. When this happens, consider this a valuable lesson in spotting emerging patterns.