March Madness, Entrepreneurs and Vision


The NCAA basketball tournament starts tonight.  The fanfare started during the regional playoffs as pundits reviewed the brackets and discussed the matchups.  Kentucky may win; they are fire red hot and the tournament’s number one seed.  We would all enjoy seeing a Cinderella team win, however.  A Cinderella team is an underdog team that no one believes will win the tournament, but wins in spite of contrary beliefs.  Fans rally behind Cinderella teams; perhaps it is because so many of us view ourselves as underdogs, struggling for a good break.

Individuals starting new businesses are often the underdog, competing for market share with small marketing budgets and smaller profit/loss margins than established companies.  Earning name recognition and being known for delivering quality products and services often takes years.  New entrepreneurs, however, can learn and incorporate lessons from underdogs who have won the NCAA championship.  One such underdog was the basketball team from North Carolina State University that won the 1983 championship.  Here are four concepts to consider.

Start with a positive outcome:  Decide what you are working for and remind yourself frequently.

When Jim Valvano met with his new team, he announced to his players that they were going to win the NCAA tournament.  The coach told his players the outcome he envisioned.  He believed that his team would win the NCAA tournament and cut down the nets.  After a championship win, the basketball team cuts down the basketball net in celebration.  It is a tradition that is filled with emotion for the team and the fans.   Everyone on the team, including the manager participates.

Practice what it would feel like to be a successful entrepreneur:  Occasionally act as if you have achieved your stated outcome.

Coach Valvano took his vision one step further.  He made the players practice cutting the nets down.  Throughout the season, during practice sessions, they would actually cut down the nets and celebrate as if they had won the championship game.

Never lose sight of your vision:  Keep your vision before you in spite of the roadblocks, disappointments, or difficulties.

The N.C. State team started the season with a winning record.  The players believed that this was the year they would cut down the nets.  As the season progressed, their cohesiveness strengthened as they continued to win.  Then disaster struck, Dereck Whittenburg, the floor general and offensive leader broke his leg and was out for a considerable length of time.  They began to lose games.  They continued, however, to practice cutting the nets down.   When Whittenburg returned, earlier than expected, the NC State team began to win again.  In order to make it to the NCAA championships, they had to play Ralph Samson and the University of Virginia.  No one expected N.C. State to win and yet, they won the region tournament by defeating Samson and Virginia. 

Work hard and believe in yourself:  New businesses require hard work, dedication and a lot of nurturing.

The N.C. State basketball team may not have had the stand out players like other college teams during that era.  They had a foundation in fundamental skills, they had solid coaching, and they had the belief that they were supposed to win.   In the finals of the NCAA championship, the team faced another giant in Akeem Olajuwon and Houston.  The game was decided in the final seconds on a broken play.  The play had been drawn and discussed on the sideline, but did not work as planned.  In the last second Whittenburg shot a jumper that fell short.  His teammate, Lorenzo Charles, grabbed the ball and dunked it into the basket.

Fundamentals and work ethic saved the day and the season.  The N.C. State basketball team finally got to cut the nets down.

Every work day may not go as desired.  Believe in your vision, know your target market intimately, deliver the best product or service possible, and get good coaching. Occasionally practice cutting down the net and you will realize the outcome you desire.


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