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Be more like the Nashville Predators: Three winning strategies

Posted by on Tuesday, May 8, 2018 in Roberts Blog.

Executive Director Spotlight

Let the Predators serve as your innovation muses

With the recent rise and success of NHL’s Nashville Predators – the “Preds,” as we call them — Nashville has transformed into a true “hockey town” and being rated one of the best in the league to watch a game.

How did this transformation happen? How did a 16-ranked seed last year make its historically groundbreaking run to the Stanley Cup finals? How did they refuse to experience the sophomore slump and become one of the best in the league this season?

Moreover, what can the Preds’ team dynamics teach us about successful startup dynamics?

Most of the credit goes to their players and coaching staff. Picking lines, managing personalities, adhering to salary caps and traversing the ups and downs of a season is no easy feat. Yet there have been numerous examples of hall-of-fame-caliber players and coaches across all professional sports who, after much fanfare, individually underperformed and never gelled as a unit.

So how are the Preds different? I think the explanation is relatively simple and can be boiled down to three things:

  1. a flat organizational structure where everyone contributes,
  2. a strong mix of youth and experience, and
  3. significant community engagement and support.


Coincidentally, all three are applicable to fostering innovation and creating a successful venture.

The Preds are noted for having one of the most offensive-minded defenses in the NHL. Led by P.K. Subban and Roman Josi, the team led the NHL in defensive points (goals and assists) throughout much of the season and created a unique dynamic of speedy, mobile defensemen who are capable of taking the puck 200 feet to generate scoring chances. When there were injuries to the offensive line, this high-octane defense provided the firepower needed for the Preds to stay on track.

As this works on the ice, it can work in a startup endeavor. Having a cross-trained team with the same “ownership” mentality means everyone is a contributor. Not defining roles or putting people in boxes also ensures greater inclusivity and diversity of perspectives. It creates an environment where all voices are heard and where innovation flourishes. Innovation ultimately equals success.

The Preds also benefit from having a strong balance of youth and experience on their roster that provides both the energy to overcome obstacles and the grit needed to dig deep. Grizzly vets like centre Mike Fisher and goaltender Pekka Rinne, in the league 17 and 11 years respectively, provide the levelheadedness to ensure the teams can bounce back and be resilient. You can see this in times of turbulence such as this recent series with Winnipeg Jets.

Meanwhile, younger players such as Filip Forsberg and Austin Watson — who lead the team in both points and penalty minutes — add the spark and physicality that are needed to go toe-to-toe with the best in the league.

So it goes with entrepreneurship. I am all too aware of the 100-hour weeks and sleepless nights that go into finding product market fit and customer traction. I know it takes almost herculean effort — and lots of coffee — to penetrate a new market and to build one’s own name and awareness. Yet from missteps of my youth, I also know now that having a strong network of advisors, mentors and boards of directors who have the grey hair and deep networks built from years of living in the trenches can help me avoid costly mistakes and certainly expedite this process.

Finally, to launch a successful venture, it takes a whole community of support. The Preds have certainly seen this kind of support from the city of Nashville. Among the attractions: Games that are a unique experience compared to hockey in other cities and to other pro sports in Nashville. The musical acts, fan giveaways and bumping sound system that mark a game in Bridgestone Arena truly create a surreal and deafening atmosphere of intensity and passion. It is essentially a bubbling cauldron of Predator pride. The fans are truly the seventh man on the ice and inspire the team to greatness.

This same kind of support is needed to foster successful startups. From both state and local governmental support through groups such as LaunchTN and the Nashville Entrepreneur Center to academic pipelines like Vanderbilt’s the Wond’ry, to get a new venture launched successfully and to overcome the many obstacles one will face, you need a whole community of support.

Ultimately, the Nashville Predators are an innovation muse whose success can provide a playbook for entrepreneurs and innovators. Anyone have tickets to the next game?


Robert Grajewski
Evans Family Executive Director