Pull Your Own Upset: Lessons From NCAA Basketball

Jim Tompkins of Tompkins International takes a look at five lessons to be learned from NCAA basketball underdogs - and how that knowledge can be applied to your business.

The April 2014 edition of Men’s Health magazine featured an interesting column called “Pull Your Own Upset.” The column discusses how to apply lessons learned to your career/company based on five NCAA basketball teams who won big games as underdogs. I thought it would be interesting to see how these lessons learned translate to our world of supply chain.

Here are the five basketball scenarios and lessons learned:

  • In 2006 George Mason forced Connecticut to show some respect. Some said George Mason shouldn’t have been included in the tournament, and that George Mason’s coach used that disrespect to fire up his team. Lesson learned: get mad.
  • Rather than submit, Lehigh hit Duke with all its muscle in 2012. From the opening tip-off, Lehigh played with surprising aggression, forcing turnover and drawing hard fouls. Lesson learned: intimidation works.
  • In 2011 Virginia Commonwealth shocked Kansas. Virginia unleashed a full court press to take an early 18 point lead, and then kept pouring it on. Lesson learned: do something surprising.
  • Florida Gulf Coast made Georgetown uncomfortable in a 2013 game. To attack the strong but slower Georgetown, Florida Gulf Coast ramped up the pace of the game. Lesson learned: play outside your opponent’s comfort zone.
  • In 2010 Butler overthrew Kansas State and Syracuse. In both games, Butler lost the lead with less than six minutes to play. So they ramped up the intensity, shot threes, and drew fouls. Lesson learned: never admit defeat.

How do these apply to the supply chain world? Let’s consider each scenario:

  1. Get Mad: Although the progress and growth of supply chain is huge, there are still situations when the supply chain is not properly included in important deliberations. We see this in S&OP, mergers and acquisitions, technology, e-commerce, and many other areas that have a huge impact on supply chain. We should use this lack of understanding as a motivational incentive to increase the role and the impact of supply chain. By educating folks who have not experienced the value of supply chain, we can make the highest contribution to the success of our firms.
  2. Intimidation Works: What do you do when your competition offers your customers a better deal and you lose market share? Playing defense by matching the offer often does not work. Instead, what you need to do is mount a counteroffensive. Aggressively attack your competition by leveraging your supply chain strengths and take back the game. Do not let the competition intimidate you. Be aggressive and make the competition respond to you instead of you responding to them.
  3. Do Something Surprising: This is where supply chain innovation can play a big role in your organization’s success. What new service or offering can you present that makes your organization unique? What innovative approach can you take to reducing costs, increasing inventory turns, and growing revenue? When Tompkins International designs material handling systems, we often save our clients huge dollars because our top design principle is “more thought and less steel.”
  4. Play Outside Your Opponent’s Comfort Zone: Think about what you can do to enhance your supply chain in order to enhance your company’s value proposition. Enhancements may be tactical or strategic. View your supply chain from your customer’s perspective and ask what you can do to delight the customer. What can you do to your supply chain to give your customers more value? By providing more customer value than the competition, you will enrich your company and enhance the role of supply chain.
  5. Never Admit Defeat: Operations rarely unfold as planned. In fact, the unexpected is most often expected. The ability of a supply chain organization to adapt to the unexpected reality of the day is critical for the supply chain to achieve its mission. A good supply chain design requires scenario thinking, predictive modeling, sensitivity analysis, and contingency planning. Supply chains must have the adaptability to not miss a beat, even when faced with significant surprises.

Of course, I am not suggesting that a chief supply chain officer try to coach in the final four. I also don’t think that we should put a final four coach in charge of the supply chain. But I think it is important to grasp the lessons learned in sports and apply them to business, and vice versa.

This blog was originally published on the "Creating Supply Chain Excellence Blog" by Tompkins International. Jim Tompkins (jimtompkins@Tompkinsinc.com) is the founder and CEO of the global supply chain consulting and implementation firm Tompkins International. The firm has worked with many industrial distributors to enhance their company’s value and to pursue profitable growth.

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