The Obstacles to Going Faster
I find motorsports fascinating. I find many parallels between racing cars and growing, in life and business.
To win in racing (or to go faster) there are so many variables. As a driver you are trying to control something that wants to be out of control. To go fast requires aggression and restraint, blended together with finesse. It’s a craft. And and you can’t focus on anything but the road ahead of you, which is very zen.
Let's start here… If you haven’t seen Formula 1: Drive to Survive on Netflix, I highly recommend watching this, even if you’re not into cars. It is high stakes and high dollar drama. It’s a very well made documentary series. And as a film fan, I don’t know how they get all the footage and great sound.
In season two there’s a story about the Haas F1 team. They are a scrappy team with a fraction of the budget compared to Mercedes and Red Bull. They built their 2019 F1 car from a collection of outsourced parts, which is not what the big players do. Yet, in their first race, they did well. The car is performing to their expectations. But they need to always do better for the next race.
So, the engineering team makes changes to the car setup for the next race. In that race, the car is slower. So they make more changes for the next race, and they are slower again. This happens after several races. Frustration builds across the 100 person team, two drivers and the owner who spends $100M on the team annually. Guenther Steiner, the Haas Team Principal, puts the head engineer on notice.
He says, “The car was not a piece of shit. So why do we develop a car that goes slower?”
Guenther continues, “Find out the problem and make progress out of it instead of ‘this is better’. It isn’t!”
Have you ever seen this in a company? There is growing activity: ideas, initiatives, projects, technologies, hires…. all in the name of making the company grow. Then things feel fragmented and fractured. One post Series-A CEO said to me the other day, “I feel like we’re schizo.” You get to a point where you realize the P&L is not growing as fast as the activity suggests. To continue the analogy, it feels like you’re spinning wheels.
Is it possible that "activity" is actually hurting the company's growth? Yes!
Just like every team, the Haas engineering team had ideas. They were tweaking and making guesses on what would make the car go faster. They were hopeful. But they weren’t starting with a problem to fix. They had no framework to understand what ideas were actually hurting them.
Guenther had it right in saying, “find the problem and make progress out of it.”
Ideas are plentiful. I love ideas! I’ve got 10 of them for you right now. But unless together we understand the obstacles we need to overcome, some ideas will hurt us. And that’s a double whammy: We waste resources implementing an idea that moves us backwards.
Start with the obstacle. Make progress out of it. Grow from there. That’s growing fast and strong.