10 Things Every Airman Can Learn From … Mark Cuban

March 22, 2019

Mark Cuban, businessman, investor, and owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, said anyone can be an entrepreneur if they try hard enough. Photo: Mike Tsukamoto/staff

Shark Tank star, Dallas Mavericks owner, and serial entrepreneur Mark Cuban shared the stage at AFA’s 2019 Air Warfare Symposium, where he helped judge this year’s Spark Tank innovation competition and joined Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen W. “Seve” Wilson for a chat about business, innovation, and gearing up for an uncertain future. Here are 10 takeaways any airman can use to innovate, lead, and make the Air Force a better place.

  1. Don’t be afraid to take that first step. If you come up with an idea, a better way to do something, or a new way to solve a problem, that’s only the beginning. The hard part is turning the idea into action. “All of us have had ideas that we thought were gonna be the next great thing,” he said. We share those ideas with a friend or colleague, they love the idea, but then we stop. What sets entrepreneurs apart is that they take that next step. “That’s something each and every one of us can do. So, the best advice that I can give you is, do it.”
  2. Failure is OK. Entrepreneurs aren’t always successful. Indeed, Cuban admitted to plenty of failures—including an ill-fated attempt to sell powdered milk. (Turns out taste and texture matter). Failure is just a way of learning. “There’s no box score for your failures, so go big because the worst thing that’ll happen is, OK, maybe… you can’t get quite that far, but, you can get almost there,” he said. “You get that first step.”
  3. Think differently. The most valuable ideas are those that tackle problems in unique ways. “I look for something that is unique and differentiated first,” he said. Ask what competitors are doing. Why is your idea better
  4. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid. “The thing we all do as entrepreneurs [is] we lie to ourselves,” he said. “Bigger” and “Best” claims raise flags in his mind. Be realistic about what your solution delivers.
  5. Be obsessed. Creativity and great ideas only get you so far. Bringing those ideas to reality is plain, hard work. What makes Cuban decide whether or not to invest, he said, is the passion the entrepreneur has for the product. He wants “somebody who is living, eating, sleeping, breathing their business because, if it’s not so compelling to you that it’s all-consuming, why are you doing it?” Love your work so much you dream about it.
  6. Know your competition. To overcome competitors, you’ve got to know what they have and be able to articulate how you will take that on. “If the entrepreneur has done those things, then chances are, I’m gonna be very interested,” Cuban said.
  7. Analyze every aspect, not just one. In any innovation, there is more than one critical variable or area of concern. For example, in artificial intelligence, one can get so caught up in data capture and algorithms that you lose track of trends in computer processing. But a change in processing could change your approach to data and software. Innvoators must understand all the moving parts to ensure that ignorance doesn’t result in accidental disaster.
  8. The mind matters. Cuban said his decision to hire a team psychologist for the Dallas Mavericks was one of his greatest contributions as an owner. How we deal with stress and function under pressure affects not only our performance, but can also impact those around us.
  9. Mission counts. “If you wake up each and every morning knowing you’re contributing to something that’s important to you, that you matter, what’s more successful than that?” he said. Define success for you and then make that your focus.
  10. Hit the books—and the Internet. When Cuban wanted to get smart about artificial intelligence and machine learning, he educated himself. He found online video tutorials and said he has Machine Learning for Dummies in his bathroom. “All it takes is reading it and learning it,” he said. If you want to know more about something, take the initiative: Teach yourself.