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Cinderella’s Unfair Advantage

When no one is looking or expectations are low, it is the best time to take big risks. As entrepreneurs and community leaders, we need to learn from the Cinderella teams in March Madness and continually take risks.

March Madness for Cinderella

I'm hooked.

Like much of the United States, this week I'm watching March Madness. It is a 68-team college basketball tournament that pits the “Cinderella” small universities against the traditional powerhouse schools.

Like most viewers, I'm cheering for Cinderella. That's why we tune in, to see the upsets. The odds are against Cinderella, but the underdogs have one enormous advantage: they can take risks.

The Risk of Risk

Not all risk is created equal.

When the spotlight is on you or you have high expectations, it is more difficult to take a big risk. Any failure when you're in the spotlight is seen by all. When you are an unknown, there is no cost to taking a big risk.

In the sports world, it happens time and time again. The underdog runs a trick play, overachieves and surprises their competitor. The favorite plays by the book and doesn't take the big risk needed to win.

When we launch businesses, projects or events, the first thing we seek is attention. We want press, mentions, buzz and brand recognition.

Instead of working for attention, work on taking risk.

When no one is watching and no one knows who you are, it is the perfect time to experiment. It is Cinderella's unfair advantage.

Try a crazy idea, aim high or focus in on a unique idea. If you fail, no one will know. When no one notices failure, you can continue to take risks until you succeed. When you succeed, you'll immediately receive the press, mentions, buzz and brand recognition without even trying.

From Cinderella to Queen

Taking risks (especially continually taking risks) eventually establishes you as a leader.

In March Madness the same thing happens. Teams like Gonzaga, Butler or VCU are amazing Cinderella stories. By taking big risks in the big games year after year, they become the established leaders.

Inevitably new risk-takers emerge like Georgia State or North Carolina State, ready to challenge the new leaders. The hunters become the hunted.

As you establish yourself, it is difficult to take risks. Avoid the hesitation to think big. Your risk-taking will be more calculated as you become successful, but it is required to lead, fulfill audacious goals and leave a legacy.

Leading as a Risk-taker

As you watch March Madness in the coming days, keep cheering for Cinderella. Take inspiration from those teams' willingness to bet big for their shot to knock off the favorites.

Also watch for the Goliaths that are willing to take risk.

The ability to innovate while standing in the spotlight is a skill that every business, project or community event should strive to achieve. As you take risks, you'll eventually find success. Don't stop there. Keep challenging yourself to lead, create and survive in your own version of March Madness.

Photo: Trevor Dykstra