A March Madness Upset: Lessons Learned

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It’s amazing how every year there is a wild upset during March Madness – which, of course, is the annual NCAA Basketball Tournament now being played. Billions are bet on trying to predict who will win.

And, yet, a handful of unimaginable upsets always occur. This year No. 1 seed Purdue gets beaten by a No. 16 seed, FDU. No. 13 Furman beats No. 4 Virginia. No. 15 seed, Princeton upsets No. 2 Arizona!

How does this happen? What can your organization learn from this?

Two things that these dragon-slayers have done that you can do too in your own organization:

The Unexpected: Ivy League schools such as Princeton have traditionally played a very slow and deliberate style of basketball. It’s called, “milking the clock” to shorten the number of possessions each team will have, hence, giving the underdog a better chance to win.

What Princeton, Furman, and FDU did this year was just the opposite. They did the unexpected. Their analytics folks figured out that shooting three-point shots versus two-point shots provided a much higher payoff considering the odds and incremental points earned per shot.

Analytics. It worked. Do the unexpected.

By the time the heavy favorites figured out what was going on, the game was over.

Business Application: A business can do the same thing: Do the unexpected. Launch an innovative product or service.

One of my clients invested heavily in remote, collaborative software to enable their staff to work productively from home BEFORE the pandemic. Remote technology turned out to be a huge competitive and cost advantage in hiring remote workers from outside the Beltway during and after COVID-19. They are stacked with A+ players now.

Make your Luck: The University of Maryland (Baltimore County) knocked off Virginia in 2018 is probably the greatest upset in March Madness history. Like Princeton, they also relied on a constant bombardment of three-point shots, but several close referee calls went their way at the end of the game plus the ball bounced their way in the last minute of the game as well giving them the victory.

It was a crazy ending.

Did they get lucky? Yes, but they made their own luck.

They made the game close at the end which made the calls and bounces that went their way relevant.

Business Application: One client of mine was a well-known, but steady-eddy wealth management firm until 2012 when they called me in to help them staff up a group medical department. In effect, they decided to roll the proverbial dice on a new department competing against WDC’s best group employee benefits firms.

We got very lucky in that our #1 employee for the department turned out to be an absolute stud benefits producer. He is now the nation’s #1 benefits producer and the firm was recently sold to a national firm for a tremendous amount of money.

Did they get lucky? Yes, but they made their own luck.

Who will ultimately win the March Madness Tournament this year?

My money is on the team who does the unexpected, and perhaps, yes, gets a little lucky!

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