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Race Cars and Corporations

| On 13, Aug 2007

Michael S. Slocum

Race cars have to perform three functions to be successful. One, they have to accelerate. Two, they have to brake. Three, they have to corner. If a car has any chance of winning, it has to perform all three of these functions better than the others.Yet as important as these functions are, what underlies them?


What is the most basic and crucial aspect of winning a race? Yes it is the perfect coordination of accelerating, braking, and cornering that wins the race, and all the systems and components of a car converge on these three aspects of success. But there is something more fundamental, and that is the ability of each tire to grip the road. It is the coordinated, optimized traction of four patches of rubber as they meet the road that determines how well a car can accelerate, brake, and corner to win a race.It is this same traction a company seeks when it sets out to make innovation common and reliable.


This is the high-level formula by which a company transitions from common sense to uncommon sense when it comes to innovation. This is the point of differentiation between conducting business as usual and conducting business as exceptional. For a corporation, the four patches where the innovation rubber meets the road are culture, infrastructure, methodology, and proficiency. Culture is the ability to shape innovative behavior and practices on a widespread scale. Infrastructure is the technology and management supports that are necessary to grow and reinforce innovation. Methodology is the standard roadmap for implementing innovation projects with a high probability of payoff. Proficiency is the ability to ramp up world-class innovation capability in the shortest possible amount of time.Together, these four cornerstones form the critical success factors of innovation ROI.


As with race cars, each of these factors needs to be coordinated and balanced according to the demands of the day. To be agile, to stop or slow when necessary, to speed up around a hair-pin turn, a race car must distribute power between its four wheels to maximize grip. Similarly, a corporation must a company must constantly distribute power among the four elements of innovation to maximize ROI.If any one element is missing or isn’t coordinated with the other elements under changing circumstances, the results are undesirable. At a minimum, the car loses the race and the corporation loses opportunity and money. At a maximum, the car spins out of control, flips over, crashes into a wall and causes a fiery demise for itself and maybe even its driver. The same is true for a corporation.