I was sad to read that Lorenzo Charles died last week. Remember him?
Back in '83, it was Lorenzo Charles who slammed Dereck Whittenburg's air ball in the last second of the NCAA finals to win the championship for North Carolina State.
NCSU was the underdog in that match. The team, led by the incredible Jimmy Valvano, snatched that victory from right under the top-ranked University of Houston, whose team had led the season (with two future Hall of Famers, no less) and was widely expected to take the prize.
When Charles' ball hit the net and the buzzer sounded, Coach Valvano raced around looking for someone to hug and finally jumped into the collective embrace of his team. It was one of those made-for-TV moments in college basketball.
Charles was only 47; he died in a bus crash. In a strange coincidence, Coach Jimmy V (as he was called) died at 47, too, after a terrible battle against cancer back in 1993. Some readers might recall the incredibly moving speech he gave in 1993 at the ESPY Awards, where he launched The Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research. "Don't give up, don't ever give up," he said.
Two lives, two inspiring stories -- especially for the entrepreneurs among us, who are constantly facing the same challenges that beset NCSU and every underdog on the day of the big game.
How do you win against the big guy, the favorite, when the odds are stacked against you and the competition just keeps heating up? Here are my principles for how to compete in an increasingly complex world:
First, with apologies for mixing my sports metaphors, you've got to pitch a perfect game. One misstep and you will fall behind -- and it might not be easy to catch up.
Do what you can to ensure a level playing field. In basketball (and baseball, for that matter), this is the ref's job. In the business world, we need to heed regulatory and legal decisions. But I like to play streetball, where elbows fly and trash-talking prevails. So use whatever (proprietary) advantage you have, but play by the rules -- or else the street will teach you a painful lesson.
Create something special. For Charles, this became his legendary slam dunk at the buzzer. For Jimmy V, it was his passion and leadership. For us entrepreneurs, it might be the uniquely innovative product or service we're bringing to market. We need to be "creators," as defined by Ayn Rand's Howard Roark: "The creator stands on his own judgment. The parasite follows the opinions of others. The creator thinks, the parasite copies. The creator produces, the parasite loots." Make something special, and stand behind your product.
Finally, be ready to capture the moment. That's what Charles did at the buzzer. That's what Coach V did in his speech. Time was not on their side, but they gave their all every day and made history in the process.
Are you a creator? Do you have what it takes? Lorenzo Charles and Jimmy Valvano did. And they gave us words and deeds to live and work by.