If you follow college basketball, you’re probably tired of hearing about “bubble teams.” Every night, ESPN’s experts weigh the fortunes of squads with pedestrian won-loss records. They dissect their seasons, measure them against each other, and forecast how many games they must win to earn an NCAA Tournament invite. It is the sports equivalent of an NBC sitcom, with all the will-they-or-won’t-they drama of Ross and Rachel.
Of course, the season starts long before this who’s-in-and-who’s-out fervor breaks out. Every team plays with the goal of making the field of 64. The top teams wrack up wins to earn a higher seed so they can play weaker tournament teams nearer to home. All the while, each team sharpens their skills, builds confidence and chemistry, and toughens up from overcoming the pressure, exhaustion, and setbacks.
You see, the NCAA Tournament is when the real season starts. The powerhouses and the Cinderellas play by the same rule: Lose a game and you’re gone. And everyone has seen a bubble team like 1983’s North Carolina State Wolfpack catch fire and win it all.
And it’s these bubble teams – those squads who find themselves on the outside looking in – who have the most to teach us about business. These 19-11 teams often start slow, lose key contributors to injury (or academics), or implode as the season wears on. With the season winding down, they must win their remaining games, usually against superior teams. Otherwise, they lose control of their fate, praying that another team can pull the upset that backs them into the tournament field.
Still, a few bubble teams are left out of the tournament every year. Predictably, their fans will bellow about how unfair the selection committee was. They’ll question the Almighty for a November buzzer beater and curse a ref for a dubious call in December. And don’t get them started on whoever scheduled February’s road trip from hell.
But their exclusion goes deeper than one or two defeats. Every team suffers bad breaks. But teams don’t lose 10-12 games by accident in college basketball. They may get lose a game to an opponent they underestimated. Perhaps they dropped another to a team who simply wanted to win more. They probably played one game not to lose, only to watch their lead slip away. And you can be certain they came into another game cocky, complacent, and unprepared. Bottom Line: Bubble teams lose games they should’ve won and dig themselves into a hole. Only when they look back do they realize how much every game really mattered. They had control of their destiny all along. And there’s nothing worse than saying, “We were so close” and “If only we had…”
That’s what these teams remind us each March. People don’t miss sales goals or launch dates on the final day. Like bubble teams, they lose them in the weeks and months preceding the big moment. Every employee has bad habits. And such flaws often distract them from what’s important. Maybe they spend too many hours surfing the net instead of prospecting. Or, they ignore emails and voicemails, figuring they can get back to these people at their convenience. They get busy, ignore details, and assume silence reflects satisfaction. Worst of all, they believe they have all the time in the world.
But it all adds up. Eventually, these employees scurry around for business at the last moment, no different than bubble teams battling to save their seasons. They’ve both committed the same cardinal sin: They lost their focus. They forgot that what they do every day matters. Over time, their mistakes left them with little room for error.
Want to stay off the bubble? Start by asking yourself these two questions to stay focused:
Where am I at?
Is what I’m doing taking me where I want to go?
If you struggle to answer either question, you probably have little control of your destiny. You are on the bubble.
In college basketball, teams have a sole focus: Making the NCAA Tournament. The teams who win are often those who stay committed to this goal all season. They’re constantly measuring where they are against where they need to be. And they never stop imagining the cheers, hugs, and joy of that special moment when they achieve their mission and can say, “I was part of that.”
If your bubble burst and you can’t say that, take comfort in knowing this: Your shot at redemption can start the minute the final buzzer goes off.
Go Iowa State!!