The Hidden Business Lessons Of March Madness


March 15, 2010   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

The NCAA basketball tournament is right around the corner, one of the most over-commercialized, bloated, melodramatic monstrosities on the sports calendar. Right? I mean, nothing shows the exploitation of the college “student-athlete” more than CBS’ billion-dollar baby. Right?

Wrong. For all the headaches and hype associated with the Field of 64, there are some important lessons the rest of the month can teach us. Between upsets and cutting down the net, keep these thoughts in your mind and think about how they relate to your life, career and even your relationships.

    • Winning easy isn’t worth as much as winning hard
      One of the first lessons of the tournament is getting in. Behind closed doors, the NCAA tournament committee decides who makes the field and who doesn’t. One of the key parts to their formula is the strength of your opponents. Think about that as you measure the successes of your business life. Have you built up your ego and by piling up easy victories? Do you know what it’s like to win hard, against someone just as smart or as talented as you, if not better? This is how the selection committees in our life (bosses, professors, recruiters) measure success. They are going to look at not just you, but who you beat. If you are cruising along with no challenges, who knows what you will do when you make it out of the first round? 
  • Everybody needs a spring break
    For many students, the first round of the NCAA Tournament comes the same week as spring break, giving them a reason to pack up the car and take a road-trip for first-round games in Boise, Oklahoma City and Dayton. Just because you are a working person now doesn’t mean that you have to save all of your vacation up for the summer. You body needs to recharge every few months. Go ahead and take a few days, park it on your couch and watch the first two days of the tournament. Turn off your computer and your phone and watch the updates come in, late into the night. 
  • Sometimes you’re Goliath
    Sure, it’s easy to root for the 16th-seeds of the world. Scrappy, small-school ballers who get everyone to cheer for them if they keep it close. But don’t make the mistake of always empathizing with the underdog. If you are doing business right, you will have smaller competitors looking to find your weakness and topple you. Don’t underestimate anyone who you may be squaring off with for a client or a contract. Stick with your strengths and don’t let up until the buzzer sounds – every time. 
  • Support your folks and root for the uniform
    One-year wonders come and go these days in the NCAA Tournament. Kevin Durant spent a season at Texas, John Wall will be one-and-done this year at Kentucky. So if your school is in the field of 64, don’t fall too deeply in love with your superstar. Instead, root for the uniform, the colors and the tradition that make you a proud alum. The loyalty to those things are what unites everyone across the country who are tuned in to see your team tip off. 
  • Hustle and clutch are great skills
    Two great plays you’ll see during March Madness are the buzzer-beating shot and the player diving out of bounds for a loose ball. How would you like to have members of your team at work who could deliver with everything on the line? Or someone who will throw their whole self into a project just to keep you from losing your momentum? You can’t teach those things, but you can look for the qualities when you decide who to surround yourself with at work. 
  • Everyone is an expert (they think)
    It’s guaranteed that the person to win your basketball bracket pool isn’t going to be the office’s resident basketball expert. It may be a co-worker who picks the winners based on cute mascots or your friend who picks all the lower seeds or a rabid fanboy who thinks his school will win the title – and they do. Everyone has a system that works for them and sometimes they strike gold. Find your own system and don’t rely on mimicking others success. 
  • Great individuals don’t make great teams
    North Carolina and Oklahoma both had rosters filled with high school All-Americans this season. One thing they have in common? Neither is going to make the tournament. If your team is made up of a bunch of people who think they should be the star, no one is going to want to share the spot light. A team works best when everyone knows their roles. Who is your point guard? Who is your defender? Clearly defined positions, including a superstar, work best. 
  • When in doubt, musical montage
    When you’re all finished with a huge undertaking, like crowning an NCAA champion, it always helps to reflect back on the emotions that everyone went through. That’s why CBS ends with “One Shining Moment”, the teary-eyed music video who shows the highs and lows of the entire tournament experiment. It gives even the most jaded of fan a chance to say – “hey, this is a great thing. And I’m glad I was a part of it.” Celebrate wins.


Written on 3/15/2010 by Mike Koehler. Mike Koehler is a public relations strategist and new media director at Schnake Turnbo Frank | PR. He works out of his offices in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, teaching businesses how to use the web. He spends his spare time with his wife and three kids. Read his blog at Photo Credit:
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