The world lost a treasure when Kobe Bryant tragically died in January. Kobe’s book The Mamba Mentality is a fascinating look at his work ethic, worldview, and clear thought process. I can’t even imagine the future writing he would have been capable of had he lived longer. Here are The Mamba Mentality Key Takeaways.
I wrote a tribute to Kobe while lying awake in bed the night of his death, which you can read here.
The Mamba Mentality Key Takeaways
Key Takeaway #1: Don’t Chase Shiny New Objects
Over the years, my routine might have changed some but my philosophy never did. If something has worked for other greats before you, and if something is working for you, why change it up and embrace some new fad? Stick with what works, even if it’s unpopular.
There are always new things getting popular, including new tools, technologies, systems, and more. What Kobe says here is important – if something is working for you, there’s no need to change it up just because there’s a shiny new object people are playing with.
One comparison in the tech world is the constant barrage of new email and productivity apps (Roam, Notion, Superhuman, Hey, to name a few). While there’s surely value in these tools, plenty of successful people don’t use and will never need to use these tools. The richest person I know has an AOL email address. It seems to be working just fine for her.
Stick with what works.
Key Takeaway #2: Structure Your Time To Reflect Your Priorities
I always felt like if I started my day early, I could train more each day. If I started at 11, I’d get in a few hours, rest for four hours, and then get back to the gym around 5 to 7. But if I started at 5 AM and went until 7, I could go again from 11 until 2 and 6 until 8. By starting earlier, I set myself up for an extra workout each day. Over the course of a summer, that’s a lot of extra hours in the gym. At the same time, starting early helped me balance basketball and life. When my kids woke up in the morning I was there, and they wouldn’t even know I had just finished at the gym. At night, I’d be able to put them to bed, then go work out again during my own time, not theirs. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my game, but I also wasn’t willing to sacrifice my family time. So I decided to sacrifice sleep, and that was that.
My dad structured his days a lot like Kobe. He was able to spend enough time working that he built a great career from nothing but as a child and even an adult, there was never a time that I felt he prioritized work over me. He sacrificed sleep to make that happen.
I’m not necessarily advocating for sacrificing sleep. But structuring your time to reflect your priorities is the key to getting more done. If your priorities include maximizing health and longevity, for example, you might actually prioritize sleeping more. But you must make a conscious choice to have your time reflect your priorities. If you don’t, well, your time reflects that too.
Key Takeaway #3: Greatness Requires Sacrifice
If you really want to be great at something, you have to truly care about it. If you want to be great in a particular area, you have to obsess over it. A lot of people say they want to be great, but they’re not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve greatness. They have other concerns, whether important or not, and they spread themselves out. That’s totally fine. After all, greatness is not for everybody.
On some level, everyone knows this. You can’t achieve anything without sacrifice. If you want that beach body, you probably need to sacrifice your Doritos and Skittles. If you want to read more, you might have to sacrifice your Netflix time. But one thing Kobe says here, “they spread themselves out,” really stood out to me. It reminds me of the Optionality Trap, which is something I’ve written about and personally struggled with. In addition to sacrificing obvious things (Skittles, etc), success also requires sacrificing optionality. There are some exceptions to the rule but when you look deeper you find that even those few exceptions required intense focus on a single thing for at least some period of time.
Key Takeaway #4: Never Be Embarrassed About Trying To Improve
A lot of people appreciated my curiosity and passion. They appreciated that I wasn’t just asking to ask, I was genuinely thirsty to hear their answers and glean new info. Some people, meanwhile, were less understanding and gracious. That was fine with me. My approach always was that I’d rather risk embarrassment now than be embarrassed later, when I’ve won zero titles.
This quote applies as much to entrepreneurs as it does to athletes. A lot of people are embarrassed to create something or launch the first version of their product because it isn’t good enough. By being too embarrassed to launch, you’re going to be embarrassed later when you haven’t created anything.
People are also afraid of asking questions, in case they look silly for asking something stupid. Kobe’s approach here is perfect. Would you rather look dumb now for asking a silly question or would you rather truly be embarrassed later when you’ve failed? The answer is easy.
Key Takeaway #5: Always Look For An Edge
I made a point of reading the referee’s handbook. One of the rules I gleaned from it was that each referee has a designated slot where he is supposed to be on the floor. If the ball, for instance, is in place W, referees X, Y, and Z each have an area on the court assigned to them. When they do that, it creates dead zones, areas on the floor where they can’t see certain things. I learned where those zones were, and I took advantage of them. I would get away with holds, travels, and all sorts of minor violations simply because I took the time to understand the officials’ limitations.
Kobe thought of everything! Knowing where the referee’s blind spots are is the kind of edge you uncover with relentless focus on a single area.
What’s the equivalent of reading the referee’s handbook in your industry?
Key Takeaway #6: The Mamba Mentality Is About The Process, Not The Result
Initially, I thought the phrase “Mamba Mentality” was just a catchy hashtag that I’d start on Twitter. Something witty and memorable. But it took off from there and came to symbolize much more. The mindset isn’t about seeking a result—it’s more about the process of getting to that result. It’s about the journey and the approach. It’s a way of life. I do think that it’s important, in all endeavors, to have that mentality.
Most people think Mamba Mentality is about winning titles – and sure, that’s been the result for Kobe. But as Kobe said, the mindset is about the process and the journey. You can see how Phil Jackson’s Zen influence rubbed off on Kobe when he talks about what the Mamba Mentality means to him.
Key Takeaway #7: Be Aware of Your Weaknesses And Work To Improve Them
As a kid, I’m talking six years old, it bothered me when something felt like a weakness. So I worked really hard on my left hand at that age. Specifically, I would brush my teeth with my left hand; I would write my name with my left hand. I hated the feeling of being uncomfortable. That’s how I looked at it on the court, too. That’s why I felt it was so important to be able to use both of them equally.
What separates great players from all-time great players is their ability to self-assess, diagnose weaknesses, and turn those flaws into strengths.
This is what separates Kobe (and other all-time greats) from merely good players.
I’ve been thinking about this section a lot and how successful people turn their weaknesses into strengths. Besides Kobe, there are plenty of other people who’ve done the same, with major success. For example, in his great blog post the best post ever written on learning how to code, Ryan Kulp describes how he was motivated to learn how to code after his co-founder made him realize he didn’t know anything about technology (though he worked in tech as a marketer). Now Ryan is such a competent developer that he’s built products used by thousands and has a course teaching people how to become developers. That’s how you turn a weakness into a strength.
Key Takeaway #8: Wins and Losses Feel Different, But Your Work Ethic Shouldn’t Change
The agony of defeat is as low as the joy of winning is high. However, they’re the exact same to me. I’m at the gym at the same time after losing 50 games as I am after winning a championship. It doesn’t change for me.
This is a beautiful lesson that I’ve seen exemplified by successful individuals in multiple fields. When you win, you shouldn’t take your foot of the gas. And when you lose, you don’t give up or stop working hard.
In the documentary The Carter, which followed Lil Wayne in the run up to and after his most successful album, Tha Carter III, he displays this same “Kobe” quality. When Tha Carter III officially went platinum, his manager Tez Bryant (no relation to Kobe) and friends went to his tour bus to celebrate. Inside, they found him recording new music. His deadpan response when they told him he went platinum is legendary:
N****s go platinum every day, eat you some soup.
I was recording.
The work ethic doesn’t change. This is the epitome of Mamba Mentality.
Hopefully this The Mamba Mentality key takeaways post gave you a glimpse into Kobe Bryant’s incredible thought process. It only scratches the surface so I highly recommend reading the book for yourself.