Racing as a Laboratory

I’m fortunate person.

I’ve spent over 30 years, now, driving race cars. Wow, have a learned a lot in that time. Just imagine the things I’ve learned about racing in that amount of time, especially since I’ve been able to compete at some of the highest level of the sport: Indy cars, prototype sports cars, Trans-Am, road and oval racing. But, you know what? I’ve learned more FROM racing than I’ve learned about racing. Racing is an amazing laboratory.

In many things we do in our lives, and particularly business, things happen slower than they do in racing. If you make a change in how you perform a skill in the workplace, it may take weeks, months, or even years for the affect to fully be seen. If you change a process or technique, the same is true.

In racing, if I change the way I perform a skill, process or technique, often I know the affect it had within seconds; at the most, within a minute or two, or by the end of the race in a couple of hours. From a scientific testing point of view, this is great – a controlled environment where you can try many variations and observe the results in a quantifiable way within a short period of time. In fact, that could even be a definition of racing: a controlled environment where you can try many variations and observe the results in a quantifiable way within a short period of time. Nah, I’ll stick with calling it “racing.”

This is how I’ve been able to learn so much about performance. I’ve exposed myself to a huge number of performance-enhancing (all legal!) techniques and strategies, and then been able to test them in a relatively short period of time. I’ve learned what works a lot, what works a little, and what doesn’t work. I’ve used myself and some of the drivers I’ve coached as “lab rats.” (I don’t feel bad about using my driver clients as test subjects, since they’ve always ended up benefiting from it).

When I say racing provides short-term answers to performance questions, I’m not suggesting that the sport does not have long-term issues. In fact, one of the things that separate the most successful in the sport from the rest is their ability to plan and strategize. That’s where racing and business is no different: the consistent successful performers plan for the future.

I wonder how many other activities have similar laboratory attributes as racing – what other things can be used to test methods for enhancing performance, like racing offers? I wonder how many other activities can be thought of, and used for, “learning labs”?

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