My basketball team will recover from failure. So can you.

Cole Harmonson

If you know me, you know I’m from Lubbock, Texas. “Hub City,” they call it. And if you were watching the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, you know something else: Texas Tech, my alma mater, pride of Lubbock, made it all the way to the championship game.

They came so close to bringing the trophy home. As I watched the last few minutes of overtime, watching it all slip away, I thought about failure. I thought about Virginia’s infamous loss to a 16-seed last year, and how that failure fueled them all the way to this win, this championship.

Will my Red Raiders be back? I know they will. I know that from this championship run. This is a team that learned from its stumbles, learned from data, paid attention to the small things, and built a process that will ensure they’re contending for that championship for many seasons to come.

Lately I’ve been writing a lot about failure, and change, and how you come back. At a recent meeting of the International Factoring Association (IFA) we had a whole discussion about it. If you’ll pardon some sports metaphors, I’d like to tell you about my Red Raiders – and how their journey overlaps with the things I was hearing at IFA.

1. Success is risky, it can lull you to sleep and makes you overconfident.

After new coach Chris Beard spent three years rebuilding (more on that later) my Red Raiders spent most of this season in the top 10. Their defense was feared. They dominated the Big 12 conference during the regular season.

But on February 2, they were blown out by Kansas on the road 79-63. It was an embarrassing loss. Everything the team was good at had deserted them: focus, discipline, attention to detail, the killer instinct that made their defense so tough.

They’d forgotten why they were there.

“Unbeknownst to us, we were dumb, fat and happy,” Kwesi Rogers of Federal National Commercial Credit said at the IFA meeting. He had done a deal against his gut, one he knew better than to do.

After that Kansas loss, the players had a talk amongst themselves. They talked about emotion, about purpose, about instinct, and reminded each other to embrace the moment and tune out the noise.

For his part, Coach Beard had players put stickers on their phones that said CONSISTENCY. They made sacrifices, some even giving up their phones (you know I love this). They gave up Pop Tarts. They focused on what they do best.

What do you do best? What does your gut instinct tell you? Stop listening to social media likes and short-term success. That’s how you get soft. That’s how you lose.

2. You need your team, especially when things are busy.

When Beard started rebuilding the Red Raiders for this season, another coach commented that “it felt like the island of misfit toys.” Six of eight scorers from the first Elite Eight team in school history were gone. New players and grad transfers had to fit into a team missing most of its core.

In more than one preseason poll, they were picked to finish at the bottom of the Big 12.

Beard’s solution? Host a retreat, away from cell phone signals. The players completed obstacle courses, did trust falls, sang karaoke. They bonded, and learned to trust each other.

When times are good, it’s easy to take shortcuts, to rely on yourself and your own intuition. When everything falls apart, it’s usually because you were too busy and too isolated to see the problem.

“Don’t do what you don’t know,” Gen Merritt-Parikh of Allied Affiliated Funding commented at the IFA meeting. She was busy, wasn’t looking at all the pieces, and took a flyer on a small deal that spun into a large problem.

3. Test your gut instinct against hard data.

My Red Raiders have a great rallying call: 4:1.

“The mental is to the physical, as four is to one,” Coach Beard is fond of saying. He’s pointing out that it’s not just physical ability and gut instinct. It’s the ability to play over distractions, to focus on the important goal.

Outcomes, however, don’t always tell you the quality of your decisions – even when you’re a basketball team. How did you get to that win? How did you get that deal, and how will you manage it?

I’m a big fan of mental models. If you make your decision-making into a process, you strengthen both the quality of your outcomes and your ability to repeat that positive outcome. This book is a great resource to understand nine common mental models; maybe you, too, can find your version of “4:1”.

After losing the national championship, Red Raiders senior center Norense Odiase reflected on the changes that 4:1 process wrought. “The toughness, the grit that got us here, won’t leave this program,” he said.

“Players change, the program changes, the mindset doesn’t change. We’ll be back.”

Cole Harmonson is the president of Far West Capital, a company that funds the goals of high-growth entrepreneurs. Know a great company in need of capital to unleash their potential? Send them here and we’ll give them a call.

 

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