The Underdog Effect: Why You Should Never Underestimate the Power of Resilience

The NCAA men’s college basketball national tournament is one of the most exciting sporting events of the year. It pits the best college basketball teams against each other in a single-elimination tournament that leaves fans on the edge of their seats. While this tournament is always exciting, the 2023 NCAA tournament was particularly interesting because the experts were so horrifically incorrect.

In brief, while it can be difficult for underdogs to surprise the masses, it certainly does happen. Take, for example, the NCAA tournament where all of the top seeds were knocked out before the finals. In a truly remarkable upset, a 16-seeded team even managed to beat a number 1. Such occurrences are rare and are not supposed to happen; yet they do.

As a businessperson, what does this mean and why do you care? You should care because merely being an underdog and outside the favor of the experts doesn’t mean they should be discounted.. Their success may simply be in formation. Time frequently proves the new is superior to the old, even though the old is always predicted to prevail.

Unlike the NCAA Football playoffs that at best are far too selective and at worst are completely biased and political, the NCAA Basketball Tournament has always felt fair. With the Transfer Portal, NIL implications, general parity among the elite schools, perceived bias against non-power 5 conferences, and the like, all eligible teams who want to join and compete have a chance to advance in this single elimination contest. I believe that many fans support the underdogs. They like seeing the Davidsons, FIUs, and SDSUs beat the old stalwarts that can out-recruit the 5-star players. Underdogs frequently survive with heart and spirit.

Our country is a lot like the NCAA Tournament.
We allow and invite all comers to join us. We root for the new and novel. Of course, the old guard likes to protect the status quo and that is frequently a challenge. That may be a lot of what is wrong with our two-party system. This “system” has a framework of how things should operate and the hardened extremes are pressuring for an all-or-nothing solution rather than a “we are in this together collaborative model”. The media doesn’t help much. They too are players in this system of Me vs. We. Recently, even the judiciary has become more active and this is from judges who believe legislatures should write the rules. It seems that if a federal judge disagrees; he or she can just stop the entire system.

The NCAA Tournament: The Underdog, The Novel, The New
One of the advantages an underdog has is that they are not expecting to prevail. Opponents are frequently looking past them to their next game. The underdog simply plays to win because losing is unappetizing.

Newcomers to business are the same. Startups see an advantage that the established players do not. Startups nibble at the edges before striking with fervor. I am always reminded that Google’s first customers were not Yahoo’s customers. This means that Yahoo didn’t even understand that they were missing so many opportunities and as the “search engine of choice at the time” they rested on their success and ignored large marketplace disruptions.

AI is in this position today: Disruptive, Innovative, Creative, and Open Source. All aspects of this emerging technology will change all ecosystems. Whether that is a good thing or not is not up to me. The marketplace will decide. A lot like Tik Tok; Governments can jump up and down all they want but consumers will ultimately decide.

Startups and entrepreneurs are resilient. Often to a fault, they frequently hold on too long and turn down a good deal in search of a better one. Basketball teams also seek to make their shot and they look for the hot hand. Better teams are nimble and know that anyone of their 12 can deliver the buzzer-beating final basket. They must trust each other and they must try new ideas, new defenses, and new shots. Of course, many shots fail to find the net, yet the winners always find a way to prevail.

Experts predict the best teams. Business experts are the same. They handicap based on what they know and what they believe. And frequently they are wrong. There is a great Henry Ford quote that goes something like this “If I listened to the market, I would have built a faster horse”.

Like new entrants into the NCAA tourney (the ones that get there by winning their conference for example rather than an at-large invitation) startups and entrepreneurs are resourceful, they seek the hot hand and they rely on a deep bench. They know their strengths and patterns and they seek advantage whenever possible. They never quit and they play with pride.

Will future tournaments be like this past one? I don’t know. Doubtful as the wisdom of the crowds will generally prevail. But when the crowd is wrong, it can open up opportunities for positive change and exciting new developments” to make the sentence clearer and more concise.

Lessons to Learn

The book “Wisdom of the Crowds” by James Surowiecki offers valuable insights into the power of collective decision-making. In the story in this article, we can see how the principles discussed in the book relate to the success of the basketball team.

One of the key takeaways from the book is the idea that diverse groups of people can often make better decisions than individuals or experts. This is because when you bring together a group of people with different backgrounds and perspectives, they can share knowledge and ideas, and make more informed decisions.

  • Never Quit: The basketball teams that prevaied never gave up, even when they were losing. This persistence and determination paid off in the end, as they were able to come together and win the game.
  • Have a Deep Bench:Have a deep bench: Coaches (managers in business) recognize the importance of having a deep bench or a strong group of players who could step up and contribute when needed. This is similar to the idea in the book that a diverse group of people can make better decisions than a small group of experts.
  • Find the Hot Hand: Winning basketball teams are able to identify which players are performing well and adjust their strategy accordingly. This is similar to the idea that the collective wisdom of a group can help identify the best options and solutions.
  • Don’t Believe the Conventional Wisdom: Superior coaches challenge the conventional wisdom that the other team is unbeatable, and instead develop a strategy that plays to his team’s strengths. This is like the idea that group decision-making can help challenge assumptions and find better solutions.
  • Pray for Some Good Fortune: While luck can never be guaranteed, the final four basketball teams were able to capitalize on some lucky breaks and use them to their advantage. This is similar to the idea that sometimes-unexpected events can lead to better outcomes, and it’s important to remain open to these possibilities.

Now – go change your day and our world for the better!

The NCAA Men’s College Basketball National Tournament is known for its thrilling games and upsets. This year’s tournament was no exception, as all top seeds were knocked out before the finals, including an unprecedented upset where a 16-seeded team beat a number 1 seed.

What can we as businesspeople learn from this? The lesson is that being an underdog doesn’t mean you should be discounted, as time often proves that the new is superior to the old, and startups often have an advantage over established players.

In this article, we’ll explore how the NCAA tournament is like the business world, and what lessons can be learned from the underdogs who prevail.

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Daniel Morris
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