Winning as an underdog

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of hearing Malcolm Gladwell speak for the first time. He told the story of a man named Vivek. Vivek was born and raised in Mumbai, but he was living in Silicon Valley with his family. His 12 year old daughter decided that she wanted to join a basketball team. Wanting to spend more time with his daughter, Vivek decided to be the basketball coach for his daughter’s team, though he didn’t know anything about the game. To learn more, he watched basketball on tv. What struck him as unusual was that the teams would score, then run to their side of the court, much unlike soccer, where the team scores then the opposite team has to work their way down the field. Having viewed this, he made two decisions: 1) he would never yell at the girls 2) he would teach the girls to play a full court press style of defense. For those of you (like me!) that don’t know about a full court press, it means that you play defense across the court, versus running back to your own side after scoring. To do so, he had the girls waving their arms frantically when the opposing team was throwing the ball back into play, in hopes of intercepting the ball. If that didn’t work, the girls were to surround the girl who caught the ball and wave their hands wildly to block. Fortunately, the strategy worked. The girls, with no basketball experience in their past and a coach who didn’t know the game, went to nationals the first year. The most interesting part was the reaction from the opposing teams coach. Initially, the coach would yell at his girls. Then, the anger would be directed towards the referee, who was clearly “blind” and “incompetent.” Finally, the aggravation became too much for the opposing team and the wrath was cast on Vivek and his girls. They were called cheats, would sometimes have a chair thrown onto the court and Vivek was even threatened by an opposing team’s coach.

Vivek and his girls basketball team is a brilliant example of focus and of rewriting the rules of the game. Vivek knew that his group of undersized, non-athletic 12 year old girls would not be the super star team of athletes, but likely the kids going to Cal Tech. Knowing this, he stayed away from the popular and glamorous portion of the game – offense – and maintained absolute dedication to the part he knew his girls could dominate – defense – on every play, in every game. Vivek rewrote the rules by not going toe-to-toe with the best and the brightest in the league; he created a separate path that was within the rules, but not necessarily the norm.

Consider this, in battles where underdog armies, those considered to be 1/10th the size of its opposition, go to fight, they typically win about 30% of the time. When those underdog armies create a strategy outside of the normal methods of battle, the winning percentage jumps to 65%! Take a look at your company and your sales process. Are you battling the 800 lb gorilla daily? If so, are you using Vivek’s full court press strategy or are your sales being stifled because you’re playing by the rules that your competitor wrote. And, if you are, how fast can you get your new strategy in place?

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Great Blog - smarter not harder always wins.