3 Lessons in Business from the NCAA Tournament Brackets

  Psychological momentum is a powerful force in business, in life, and often most importantly, in sports. 
This time of year, many of us are glued to our screens watching psychological momentum play out on the courts of the NCAA Basketball Tournaments 
To the delight of many fans and for reasons unbeknownst to me, the selection process of the NCAA Tournament pits often unexpected competitors against one another, resulting in unknown teams sometimes upsetting larger, more skilled rivals through sheer will to win.

No disrespect intended in any way but, who in their right mind expected 12th ranked Yale to beat 5th ranked Baylor? Little Rock-Arkansas beating Purdue? And let’s not even mention the aptly named Witcha State Shockers? 


While I’m sure some CEOs would disagree, thanks to the hours of distraction that come from office NCAA Tournament brackets, the display of psychological momentum and fortitude we witness during “March Madness” can be a powerful lesson for business. In fact, the same type psychological momentum has played out in my company, BodeTree over the last few years and I’ve gleaned a few lessons from observing its effects.
It’s all in your head.

Psychological momentum is defined as a state of mind where an individual or team feels things are going unstoppably their way. It’s a concept well known in the world of sports. According to the American Psychological Association’s Review of General Psychology, 92 percent of football coaches believe their performance is “crucially determined by momentum.” The impact is so strong, studies have shown that coaches frequently change their overall behavior and adopt a more aggressive strategy after a single successful play early in the game.

When it comes to business, a similar psychology plays out. Observers are often amazed at my company’s ability to sign deals with much larger partners and manage the business with a fairly small team. I attribute this to the momentum we’ve been able to foster internally.

This momentum isn’t necessarily due to specific successes, but rather how we perceive the actions we take as a team. After all, the launch of a new product or signing of a new contract often leads to more work, challenges, and headaches for the team. However, each win, no matter how small, builds a sense of momentum that keeps us moving forward.
The ‘as-if‘ principle

The “as-if” principle comes from a powerful book by Richard Wiseman of the same name. Wiseman’s advice is simple: Your emotions don’t control your behavior; rather, your behavior controls your emotions. This idea is ingrained in anyone who has played team sports. Why do sports teams often dress formally before a game? They do it because the sense of professionalism and discipline that goes along with dressing up actually influences behavior on court or playing field.

Early on at BodeTree, my team and I fell terribly short when it came to managing our behaviors effectively. The frustrations of launching an innovative product into a very conservative market weighed heavily and our morale sank. I’m embarrassed to admit negativity and stress permeated the atmosphere, and the prospect of coming into the office every day was grim.
Once we adopted the “as-if” principle, however, our internal psychology shifted. Challenges and obstacles began to be viewed as opportunities, rather than reasons for despair. We celebrated successes, no matter how small, and eventually a feeling of positive momentum took hold.  

How to build momentum in your business

Naturally, coming to these realizations, and more importantly, putting them into action took a lot of time and effort. What emerged from this introspective process are five key principles that can be applied to any business.
1. Act like you’re already succeeding : Conduct yourself in a manner that exudes confidence. Come into the office composed, well rested and energized.
2. Focus on the positive: Don’t dwell on problems. Instead, look at them as opportunities for greatness. Be realistic, but try to frame things positively at all times.
3. Celebrate victories: It doesn’t matter how small they are. Make sure your entire team knows of about wins and recognize their contributions every time.
4. Show excitement: If you’re running your own business, you’re doing something comparatively few people ever get to do. Show your excitement in everything you do and never take your position for granted.

5. Don’t give up: If you find yourself short on success and start to see pessimism on the rise, don’t despair. It takes determination to build momentum, just keep pushing and you’ll get there.


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