Long Live the Underdog

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By Mel Edwards, CEO, EMEA at Wunderman

Underdogs have been a quiet source of global inspiration for centuries. From as far back as David vs Goliath to down-trodden artist Frida Kahlo and imprisoned revolutionist turned revered country leader Nelson Mandela, we’ve witnessed those least suspected of victory take their turn in the spotlight.

Seeing something - be it a person, team, or company alike - rise from rags to riches and outdo an assumed leader is one of the most poignant forms of inspiration out there. Because if they can do it, why can’t you?

The truth is we all revel in glory when an underdog like Leicester City wins the football and are beholden to those who turn seemingly simple ideas into bare necessities, such as Jan Koum, CEO and founder of Whatsapp, who’s come a long way since living off food stamps in Ukraine at the tender age of 16. The lesson here is that a good idea can come from anyone, anywhere at any time.

The underdog no longer has to be “downtrodden and oppressed”. They have the ability to be triumphant where victory was once thought unobtainable. It’s about taking advantage of making that transformation, an improvement, a marked difference that will bring positive change to a sector and create a shift in a standard mind-set.

So if an underdog or a disruptor can come from anywhere at any given time, why aren’t more companies incorporating this challenger outlook in their business?

Disruption, particularly digital, is omnipresent. A large conglomerate can no longer afford to sit pretty at the top of its corporate mountain. If you’re unwilling to listen and adapt to the ever changing world around you then you could easily and very quickly be knocked off your perch. And like English staple BHS, you may not be able to come back from it.

It’s true that start-ups have several advantages over larger, more established companies. They’re small and nimble, they don’t have the corporate admin and bureaucracy their larger cousins are plagued with. This means they can change and adapt in real-time. And while the loftier companies might have access to significant amounts of data, start-ups are savvy enough to react to the data they garner with a sense of immediacy, meeting customers liquid expectations.

For businesses to enjoy growing success and reap the benefits of innovation, they need to start employing this undervalued underdog mentality. Never be complacent, never rest on your laurels. If your product is working, keep making it better and look for new ways to put to use. This super digital world we live and work in means anyone can become an underdog and a disruptor, even a “top dog”.

A perfect case in point here is Apple. An original underdog, it put computers in our hands and made mobile what it is today, but somewhere along the line, pushing the boundaries of our expectations reached a standstill. Its Q1 earnings this year revealed that iPhone sales decreased YoY for the first time. It’s unclear what this means for the company in the long run, but what it shows us is that the top spot is ripe for picking.

There’s a large misconception that underdogs aren’t a threat. Nobody sees them coming. They aren’t expected to win, so they have nothing to lose in the first place. The way they see it is ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained’ and this somewhat cavalier attitude often means they come out on top.

Creating such an agile company isn’t easy, it requires not just original thinking and bold moves, but true diversity. And when I say diversity, I’m not referring just to people of different gender, race, and geography. Businesses need people like the shop clerk with the fashion sense of Anna Wintour, or the handyman who created a traders app. It’s about potential, and potential doesn’t only come from those with a degree in a specific field. It comes from people with visions as well as those with bundles of life experience.

The underdog’s workplace culture is infused with their inability to stop for even a moment. They are entwined in the mentality of constantly moving forward. When you’re on the cusp of making it big you don’t sit back, have a cuppa and relax. Underdogs know they’ll sleep when they’re dead.

The term underdog is not fixed for companies rising from the bottom. It’s a status, not a name, and one that larger organisations should be striving to achieve.

About Wunderman 

Wunderman is Creatively Driven. Data Inspired. A leading global digital agency, Wunderman combines creativity and data into work that inspires consumers to action and delivers results for brands. Wunderman has won multiple creative awards including a Cannes Lion Grand Prix and in 2015, industry analysts named Wunderman a leader in marketing database operations as well as a strong performer in customer engagement strategy. Headquartered in New York, the agency brings together 7,000 creatives, data scientists, strategists and technologists in 175 offices in 60 markets. Wunderman is a WPP company (NASDAQ: WPPGY). For more information, please visit www.wunderman.com and follow us @Wunderman.