Ranadive's books offer insight on Kings tactics

06/30/2013 12:00 AM

10/22/2014 1:51 PM

Vivek Ranadive ignored tradition when he hired a new coach for the Sacramento Kings. Normally, a team's general manager hires the coach, but Ranadive made the pick himself – just three days after buying the team.

But if Ranadive's first personnel move surprised basketball fans, his literary followers could have seen it coming.

The Silicon Valley software tycoon has written three books on business and management, all devoted to the same basic theme: Executives must develop the skills to make snap decisions, even when they have limited information.

So when he made Michael Malone the Kings' new coach so speedily after taking over, Ranadive was taking a page out of his 2011 book, "The Two-Second Advantage."

It's an ode to quick and unconventional thinking. Ranadive and co-author Kevin Maney write that the most successful leaders "see openings and get flashes of creativity (and) take in everything that is happening at a company and see it from a higher level, the details blurring into instinct."

Sure, Malone wasn't a total bolt out of the blue – he was an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors, where Ranadive was part owner. But the hiring was still unusual because it happened so quickly and Ranadive hadn't yet named a general manager.

No matter. Ranadive wanted Malone, feared he might get hired elsewhere, so he pounced.

Ranadive "will probably do things in ways that nobody has done before," Maney said in an interview. "There's no such thing in Vivek's vocabulary as, 'Oh, that's not done.' "

Ranadive's books are a reminder that he is first and foremost a CEO, the founder of a $1 billion-a-year maker of data-management software maker Tibco Software Inc. in Palo Alto. Successful and highly opinionated, Ranadive, 55, rode "The Two-Second Advantage" and his first book, "The Power of Now," onto the New York Times best-seller lists.

He isn't shy about sharing his views on organizational behavior, information technology, motivating employees and other topics.

His writings also drop a few hints about how Ranadive will run the Kings.

In "The Two-Second Advantage," published shortly after Ranadive joined the Warriors, he and Maney discuss how sports teams can employ data to sell more hot dogs and merchandise.

Example: If someone buys a toddler-size team jersey, it's likely the family has a growing child in the family. Six months later, the team can email them a discount offer for the next size up.

Player performance could get a boost from Ranadive's love of data, too. He and Maney write that someday, teams could use cameras and computers to chart every movement on the court. An assistant coach with an iPad could bark out instructions on opposing players' likely moves at key moments.

Ranadive isn't simply a data drone. His books reveal a fondness for creative thinking – even if it comes from mouthy subordinates.

Little wonder that one of his first acts as Kings owner was to reach out to the team's talented but temperamental center, DeMarcus Cousins. In "The Power of Now," published in 1999, Ranadive urges bosses to take chances on mercurial employees.

"There's a little of the prima donna, the franchise-player athlete, the brilliant if abrasive jazz soloist, in a star," he writes. He prefers them to "team players who, I suppose, produce a pleasant Muzak hum."

In the same book, he says the best companies are run like jazz ensembles, with room for improvisation, not Sousa marching bands playing in lock step.

He used almost exactly the same language to describe his vision for the Kings when introducing Malone as coach.

Ranadive's books alternate between wonkish and whimsical. There are treatises on computer systems, architecture and the wiring of the brain – plus profiles of celebrity chefs and concert violinists.

The common thread is that memories and data can be mined to spot trends and react instantly to events. In his 2006 book, "The Power to Predict," he marvels at Wal-Mart's precise knowledge of what will sell after a hurricane watch is issued (beer and strawberry Pop Tarts, among other things).

Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, a favorite subject in "The Two-Second Advantage," was the master at that – tapping his knowledge from years of playing in order to anticipate what was likely to happen next on the ice. That enabled him to "skate to where the puck was going to be," Ranadive and Maney write.

There's a wrinkle to this. Far from being a slave to data, Gretzky could pull from his memory banks just those bits of information he needed at exactly that moment.

The alternative, according to Ranadive and Maney, are those who insist on searching "mountains of data" before acting. The result is delay and opportunity lost, they write.

Among those they place in that second, more cautious group: Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who lost to Ranadive in the Sacramento-vs.-Seattle fight for control of the Kings.

Call The Bee's Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.

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