Magic in the Madness – Can We Learn from Losing?

Even if you aren’t a basketball fan, it’s difficult to get through the month of March without hearing about the March Madness NCAA basketball tournament. Cinderella teams like last year’s Middle Tennessee State emerge (they were a 15th seed out of 16; not expected to advance), and toss 2016 Middle Tennessee State Basketballfavorites like Michigan State (expected to be in the final 4) aside. If it busts your bracket, you’re bummed! And it’s incredibly sad for those kids who had the expectation of advancing *at least* past the first round.

But what about the MAGIC that happened to those kids who won that game unexpectedly? It was the biggest upset in the history of the tourney. It might not have been unexpected to them, and that’s part of what’s so cool about the tournament that starts with 64 teams… They were stoked to have made it to the dance. They played with heart. And they proved that nothing is certain, other than the fact that at least one team would emerge the victor in the end.

How can we apply this to the business landscape?

Everyone has an opportunity to “dance” among their competition, regardless of the product or service. Having a great product or service is important, but selecting the right marketing channels and sales people to help you win is crucial.

What do you consider your tournament? It could be CES every January if you have a consumer electronics product, SEMA Show if you’re in the automotive industry, or InfoComm if you buy or sell audio-visual equipment. It’s in these environments where companies have a chance to shine.

Practice time

Teams don’t just show up to the tourney, though, right? They’ve been playing all season, and practicing leading up to the tournament. How does your team prepare for the crucial events you participate in? If your team doesn’t “practice,” chances are you aren’t getting the most out of the money you’re Gonzaga Win March Madness 2017spending to be there.

I included a survey for my masters thesis that included exhibitors (sales/marketing people) and executives that make the budget decisions about attending tradeshows. One survey respondent had this to say when asked if preparation before a trade show was important:

“Trade show attendance needs to be well thought through before the show. Meetings need to be planned for and participants need to be prepped for each meeting. Do not let your company waste time, money and opportunity by going to a Tradeshow unprepared. Showing hardware is secondary.”

74% of the respondents indicated being able to communicate with other attendees in advance of the show enhances the in-person experience for them. In a way, laying that foundation in advance is that practice. Any time you speak about your product or business is practice. Think of everytime you give your elevator pitch of “what you do” as that opportunity.

Elevator pitch

Is there magic in your 30-second pitch? Think of it as a chance to surprise and delight each and every time, just like basketball teams do each March.

While it seems difficult to be authentic while riding an elevator with a stranger (it’s almost taboo to even talk on those things, right?!), it’s a good visual for how to condense your “what do you do?” response into a bite-sized nugget that can be consumed easily. Hopefully it will also leave them wanting to know more.

3 tips for creating a quality elevator pitch:

  1. Sharing your passion is a good way to say what you do. Instead of simply reciting your title, talk to *why* you do what you do.
  2. Talking to how your passion relates to what you do should be next. Mentioning the company you work for is only important if it gives you capital (would the fact that you work for Dell be a hook for this person you’re speaking to?).
  3. Closing with why you’re where you are (networking event, tradeshow, etc.) while speaking with them gives context for why they might want to learn more about you. This part might seem obvious to you, but it probably isn’t obvious to them.

There’s magic in serendipity

Serendipity in losingIt’s important to have a gameplan — to know the approach you’re going to take. However, it’s also key to be open to serendipity. Surely, Michigan State thought a 15-seed no-name-team was going to be easier to beat! They had to change their approach as the game evolved.

We typically have a plan when entering a business situation like pitching to win business or when attending a conference or tradeshow. As indicated by a respondent to my thesis, it’s not just important for sellers (the exhibitors), but for buyers also; “It is equally important for a buyer to do pre-work before a show to maximize the time on the floor.”

And what happens when a hot prospective customer shows up to your booth who wasn’t on your radar? You change your game. You listen. Then you respond accordingly, answering their needs. And you listen some more.

Planning is important, but being open to those unexpected, serendipitous situations on networking breaks and on the show floor are equally as important.

Learning from losing

I’ll bet if you ask a “ringer team” what they learned from losing that March Madness game, they’ll need time before they have an answer. Losing a game we expected to win, not getting the job we know we’re perfect for, losing a sale when we were SURE we had it — these are all things we can learn from.

Learn from losing in businessDo you even think about learning anything when your business loses a sale? Do you take the time to explore why you lost beyond just questioning whether the salesperson dropped the ball? The truth is we can do everything “right” throughout that process, and still not get the business.

Lauren LeMunyan is an executive leadership coach who learns from losing. She also isn’t afraid to expose her losses to help people learn from them. She wrote an article on LinkedIn about not getting a job. And it really resonated with people. It reached way beyond her connections, and she got a ton of positive feedback because she was being real. Exposing that wound and showing what she learned from it really resonated with people.

We all experience loss in business and in life. It’s what we choose to do with it that’s worth taking a second, third, maybe fourth look at. Perhaps there’s opportunity there?


Whether your team lost or your March Madness bracket is still fully intact, it sure is fun to witness the victories. It’s not as easy to witness “the agony of defeat” (how many of you just heard the ABC Wide World of Sports announcer when you read that?). It is, however, worth exploring what we can learn from them. The team I had chosen to win it all lost on Saturday, and I was bummed because it likely meant a “loss” of a lot of money for me in my pool.

A wise man I met that evening could have said to me “it’s just a game,” which would have been trite. Instead he said “You didn’t lose $1,000 – you only lost $40.” And he’s so right! Not only that, but I have gotten a ton of entertainment out of all of this March Madness, so I’ll still come out a winner.

Do all you can to prepare for things in life and business. But be prepared for serendipity. Be prepared to lose, and do your best to then look at the lesson. If you can learn from it, you might even see it as an opportunity. Sometimes the serendipity comes from the loss — you just have to look for it.

Here’s a great video with regard to losing: “Instead of getting mad, get curious.”
Wes Gipe via

Megan Powers

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