Three Ways to Rev Up Your Strategy

Having spent all of my formative years – and many of my adult ones – in the stands at the world famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway watching the annual 500-mile race, I was conditioned from an early age to appreciate the power of continuous improvement. If ever there was a sport custom-made for a continuous improvement mindset, it’s auto racing, where one-thousandth of a second can be the difference between a visit to Victory Lane and “also-ran” status. I’ve learned a few things about strategy watching the Indycar teams ply their trade, and three of those things are applicable to any organization in search of performance excellence.

Check your dashboard

In auto racing, dashboards tell drivers everything they need to know about how their cars are performing: the good, the bad and the potentially disastrous. Drivers who ignore their key metrics – things like engine performance, fuel consumption and tire wear – do so at their own peril. Similarly, organizations that examine their own strengths and weaknesses – honestly, thoroughly and regularly – are much more likely to develop and implement a sound strategy than those that don’t. Accurately identifying and then paying close attention to your key performance metrics – and knowing when they are signaling you to step on the gas or make a pit stop – is fundamental to long-term success.

Scan your environment

In auto racing, drivers must scan their environment constantly, checking for other cars, changes in track conditions, and accidents up ahead. Drivers cannot react to things they don’t see, so those are also the things most likely to take them out of the race. Similarly, organizations that make it a priority to scan – and rescan, and scan again – their environments consistently outperform their rivals. Highly strategic organizations keep tabs on their strongest competitors – and their most important collaborators. Because having a strong strategy is about position relative to other organizations, scanning your environment is critical to success.

Find clean air

In auto racing, there’s clean air and dirty air. Clean air is what the race leader enjoys. Clean air is free of turbulence, and free of obstruction. It’s the best possible scenario from the driver’s perspective. Dirty air, on the other hand, is what every car except the leader runs through. It’s air that’s been disturbed – made turbulent – by the leader, and it plays havoc with the handling of the cars trailing behind. Strategic organizations have a knack for finding clean air, whatever that looks like for them. For some, it means optimization and having the best product or service in an established market. For others, it means blazing a trail and having the first offering in an emerging market. Either way, it keeps them from trailing behind a leader, stuck in dirty air. Instead, it makes them the leader in their chosen lane. And guess what? An organization that regularly checks its dashboard and constantly scans its environment is much more likely to grab some clean air and surge ahead of the competition.

In auto racing, an old saying goes that, in order to finish first, first you must finish. Strong strategy does not guarantee a win every single time, but it absolutely keeps you in the race, keeps you competitive and sets you up for future success.


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