I first published this article about a year ago and since then, I can’t help but keep thinking about how much I learn and think about business each weekend that I spend at the racetrack. Crazy huh? I race for fun and to get away from the daily activities but then I still think about work while I’m at the track… But then again, I also think about racing when I’m working so it all balances out. Work is fun and racing is fun too and that’s my world. I very much love both activities.
The reality is that when I’m at the track, I have a relatively limited time to get a lot of stuff done. The schedule is usually tight. There are timed sessions for each group and either you’re ready to go when your session starts or you just miss the session and valuable track time. Being efficient and preparing ahead of time is the key. Typically, I go to the track with some friends and with my son David too who’s now an avid racer and yes… sometimes, faster than me! And believe me, once we all put our helmets on, friends or no friends, family or no family, we all want to be faster than everyone else!
It is no coincidence that the most successful and leading auto-racing team owners are also very successful entrepreneurs outside of the racing world. In the USA, Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi, Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick, to name a few, all run a number of very successful businesses in addition to their own racing teams. In Formula One, Bernie Ecclestone was a so-so driver, but later became a very smart team owner and savvy entrepreneur, to the tune of being ranked the 4th richest person in the UK according to Forbes. Oh, and did I mention that he’s also the President of Formula One Management among a number of several other business ventures and enterprises that he also controls.
So what are the common personality and business traits that racing leaders possess that we can all apply to our own businesses? Here’s an expanded version of some lessons that I’ve learned in my racing world that I’ve also applied to my business.
- Preparation. Preparation is always key. No matter how well prepared you are, you will always have to deal with some unexpected circumstances. You don’t need to be race fan to realize that in every race, there are several DNFs (Did Not Finish). Don’t think for a second that any of those teams that “did not finish” were not well prepared before the race because they were. However, some participants are better prepared than others. How many DNFs do you have at work? Do you start a project only to find out half way through that due to your lack of preparation, research or for any other reason you cannot complete it? Always be prepared and learn to anticipate. It will help you deal with the ‘unexpected.’
- Team Work: if you want to be the best, you need to surround yourself with the best team. The old cliché that “you’re only as good as your weakest link” is not only critical in racing but in all other businesses too. Whether it is your jack-man that keeps messing up, or your accountant, or your project manager, etc. if you don’t have the absolute best team, you will always be settling for second place, or third, or fourth…
- Focus on Results. Believe me, I go to a lot of meetings… primarily clients’ meetings or meetings with prospective new clients or even informal business conversations. I can’t tell you how many times I see very smart people get lost in the “process” while ignoring the final results. I don’t care how good your process is (or you think it is) if you’re not producing results, you might as well wrap up that process nicely and throw it away! It is good to have processes and operating procedures but ONLY if they work. If they don’t work, the longer you stick with them, the further behind you will fall.
- Always Use the Right Tools for the Job. Aahhh, how many times have I used my trusty adjustable wrench as a hammer, or my reliable flat head screw driver as a pry bar, or my favorite, the BFH (don’t ask me what that stands for) as an all-in-one tool for everything that is bent! It just doesn’t work! No matter how many times you ask your accountant to manage a project, or your designer to become a programmer, or your programmer to adjust a graphic, the truth is that you are setting yourself for failure. Get the right person for each job and you will always win. If that doesn’t work, see #2 above.
- Good Today is Better than Perfect Tomorrow: this is another attitude that I don’t understand. Why do people always wait until the very last minute to create something that they hope is “perfect” although it will never be, at the risk of missing a great opportunity to be the “first” to market? I always prefer to roll out a new product that it’s only 85-90% proven today and improve it as we go, over missing out a great opportunity (and timing) because I wanted to make it “perfect.” Being first to market a new product is always better than being last to market the perfect product. Why? Because the market will make it perfect for you. Technology is moving too fast these days to even expect to create a “perfect” product. Test it, launch it, improve it, repeat. If you don’t believe it, see how frequently your own phone apps are constantly being updated.
- The Art of Delegation. I’ve already written a separate article about Delegation, but suffice it to say that if you as a driver, don’t trust your engine builder, or your tire changer, or your fuel person or your crew chief to do their jobs, you will not go very far. Hire people that are better than you at what they do, let them do their jobs so you can focus on your own job. Otherwise, try to drive your racecar, come to a pit stop, get out of the car and change your own tires, add fuel, get back in the car and back in the race. Then tell me how that goes… Delegate and grow.
- Sharpen Your Tools. So my cutting blade is dull and a simple cutting job that would take me 5 minutes, it is now taking me 15. Then the grinding wheel is all worn out, and my metal file is about done (maybe at some point I used it as a pry bar too?) Either way, this “easy” job that could be done in 15 minutes is now taking me one hour and becoming a huge aggravation. Does that sound familiar? Are you working on an old computer, with a slow internet connection, outdated software, poor lighting, an uncomfortable chair…? How much time, money and aggravation is that costing you each day? Sharpen your tools and you will be not just more efficient but much happier too. You will get things done so much faster, that you may even have time to go racing!
- If in Doubt, Throw it Out. It is bad enough that every company out there promises the “magic part” or chip that will add insane amounts of horsepower to your engine in ‘3 easy steps.’ The truth is that if it is too good to be true, it most likely is. Golfers know that all too well since the Golf products infomercial market is also full of false promises. Believe me, I’ve produced some Golf infomercials that “only” required 30+ takes to get that hole-in-one that they advertise. But of course, we would only show you THE hole-in-one take once the editing is done. The only thing worse than trying a new part, or tool, or software, or Golf club, that doesn’t work is holding on to it just because the advertisement says it does. Believe me, you’re better off trying something else and not wasting any more of your time trying to convince yourself that what you have “has to work.” Cut your losses, save time and move on.
- Forget Your Mistakes… Fast! Yes, learn from them, but after that, forget them! In racing, things happen fast, (no, really?) and I can’t tell you how many times when I was a young(er) driver, I missed a corner, or went off track, or brushed a wall, and I kept thinking about it and swearing in every language I know over the next three or four laps… only to keep making more mistakes over and over because I wasn’t focusing on what’s ahead of me! Don’t let mistakes make you lose your focus! You need to learn from them but immediately regain your focus so you can remain mistake-free the rest of the way. In other words, develop an automatic “short term memory” and remain positive all the time.
- A Tiny Adjustment Can Generate Great Results. You don’t always need a complete overhaul to get some aspect of your business to be working properly. In fact, most of the times, it is just some fine-tuning adjustment that will be the difference between average results and great results. At the track, we usually are ready (see Preparation point #1) however, we always make small adjustments to our racecars or race karts to maximize performance based on the current track conditions. Maybe it’s just a matter of adjusting tire pressures by half a pound, or wing downforce angle by a few degrees, or fuel ratio by a percentage point. Any of those adjustments can result in reducing several tenths of a second per lap and could easily be the difference between qualifying on the pole or in tenth place. How frequently do you make fine adjustments in your business? Think about it. Maybe your marketing needs some fine-tuning, or your SEO keywords need to be tweaked, or your website needs a couple of updates, etc. Remember, sometimes all you need is a few small adjustments to see great improvements.
- Reward Your Team. I started this list by highlighting the importance of Team Work. Well, it is just as important to reward your team as frequently as they deserve. No driver gets to Victory Circle by himself and no President or Owner, or CEO ever remains successful without the support of his team. Always reward your team when milestones are reached or when certain performance levels are met. Make them part of your success!
- Make it Fun! I go racing to have fun! Yes, I’m very competitive and of course I always want to win, or be faster than my friends, but in the end, having just plain fun is the greatest victory of all. Of course, some days are better than others. Nobody has fun when your engine blows, or you crash, or worse yet, when you get hurt. But even in those extreme cases, you realize that all of that “misfortune” happened while you were having a lot of fun. I always say that crashing is a downer but not having the opportunity to race will be a disaster in my life. I’d rather live a life full of “I’m glad I did it’s” than a life full of “I wish I had done it’s.” And I apply that philosophy to my business too. No all ventures turn out to be a blast, but I’m sure having a blast with the freedom I have to pick my business ventures.
I’d rather live a life full of “I’m glad I did it’s” than a life full of “I wish I had done it’s.”
The video that you see here is just a typical weekend at the track with my son and my friends. Some people think it’s crazy to race a Kart one inch off the ground at close to 90 mph. And I agree, it’s crazy fun!!
Until next time, this is Manuel Gil del Real (MGR)