Plan B. That's how the University of Notre Dame women's basketball team won the NCAA championship on Sunday night, on a last-second shot by guard Arike Ogunbowale, to defeat Mississippi State University in a thrilling come-from-behind victory.

Ogunbowale wasn't even supposed to get the ball. The play -- Plan A -- was designed for forward Jessica Shepard, closer to the basket, who was having a great game. Plan B, which is what actually happened, was to get the ball to Ogunbowale to  create an opportunity from the one-on-one coverage.

"Fortunately," coach Muffet McGraw said during a post-game interview, "Option A didn't work."

Ogunbowale swished the shot, becoming the first player ever to sink back-to-back buzzer beaters in the NCAA tournament semi-final and final games.

As an entrepreneur, I took away three key learnings from both the game itself and McGraw's responses to it afterward. Option A didn't work. Here's what did.

There Was a Plan B in the First Place

What will you do if your Plan A doesn't work out? Who or what is your team's Arike Ogunbowale?

Business consultants have ideas for what to do when things go awry with your startup, and they are very good ideas such as restrategizing and staying positive. But what's often missed is the need for a Plan B in the first place.

It happened to us. Our business today isn't anything like what we thought it would be when we launched. We had a business plan, our Plan A, so to speak. It was carefully thought out and grounded in what we knew to be true about our industry. It also completely didn't work.

It took some time -- valuable, precious time -- to figure out how to pivot. It meant new sales cycles and new messaging, for starters. If we had a Plan B from the start, we could have saved time, effort and resources. The point isn't to lack faith in your Plan A. The point is to also see the broader perspective of a Plan B, which in our case could have been built into the DNA of the company from the start if we had taken the time to think through alternate scenarios of success.

Keep Fighting

Things were not looking good for Notre Dame for much of Sunday night's game. They were outsized inside the paint, particularly by Mississippi State's talented 6-foot-7 center, Teaira McCowan. They shot only 22 for 52 overall, and were just 2 for 9 from 3-point range. They were 30 points below their scoring average during the tournament. And much has been made of four of the team's players having torn ACLs.

In the startup world, that's a little like your top salesperson and your key engineer taking unplanned leaves of absence, plus your best customer suddenly pulling out of a major contract. It doesn't mean you stop working, or trying, or playing the game. You hang in there, even if by your fingernails, and you scrap your way back into contention.

Cool Competition

You also don't freak out.

Sure, we should all be so lucky as to have Arike Ogunbowale on our team, with her cool-as-ice performances and just enough swagger to believe it's her shot that's going to win the game. The entrepreneurial world's iteration of her is a leader who's passionate, confident and (most of all) calm; who steadies the ship; and who shows up, day after day, to put the company's mission into action.

You might even add humor to the mix.

"We had four A.C.L.s, a broken nose, a black eye, three ankle sprains and a broadcaster with an ingrown toenail," joked long-time Notre Dame sports radio broadcaster Bob Nagle. "If you weren't injured, you couldn't ride on the team bus."

You could, however, end up winning a national championship.

Published on: Apr 5, 2018
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