Motorsports truths for business: Straightest is fastest

Find the most important thing and do it well

The author learns to drift a corner at Dirtfish driving school

The most powerful system in an automobile is the brakes.

The fastest speeds around a track are achieved with proper use of the steering wheel (not only the gas pedal).

These statements seem counter-intuitive, but if you get them wrong you’ll end up sliding off the track.

Business literature is full of strained analogies and poorly applied comparisons. But I think many of the best insights from motorsports are applicable to business and management. Why?

Doing well in business or motorsports requires that you know about the capabilities and limits of each part of the system as well as the interactions between them. A car might be able to send 500 horsepower to the rear wheels, but if you use them all at once you’ll end up spinning around rather than moving forward. A startup may have two hundred million dollars in funding but I don’t need to tell you that those startups can still go bankrupt because of poor choices.

When you’re operating a car at high speed around corners on a slippery surface, you’ve got a lot going on in real time with no way to slow down the decision making process. And yet decisions must be made. Running a business is barely any different, even if speed is measured in days or weeks instead of seconds.

Let’s start with an easy one (from Ultimate Speed Secrets by Ross Bentley):

The more time you spend with the front tires pointed straight ahead, and the throttle to the floor, the faster you’ll be. [p.77]

On the first read, this seems obvious. Point your wheels straight ahead, put the pedal to the floor, and go fast.

But there are many corners in a race, none of which can be skipped and none of which can be traversed by pointing the wheels straight ahead. The point is to do those parts with an eye on how they help you get back to the straight and fast.

And if you don’t get the maximum speed out of the straight and fast, nothing else will help you make up the time.

How does this apply to business and management? You have to know what the most important thing is that your business does, and do everything else with that in mind. For PeepCode it was publishing new videos every month. No amount of marketing, promotion, website optimization, or anything else could equal the impact of publishing new content.

Businesses would be easy to run if the most important thing were the only thing we have to do. There are many more things that are needed to support the business. The thing to remember is that they should be done in a way that gets us back to the main thing.

“Most important” doesn’t always mean “spend the most time, money, or thought on it.” Driving a race properly means you’ll probably spend the least amount of time on the straight, fast sections (because you’ll drive through them at top speed). But it’s the thing that must be done well above all others.

Point your wheels straight ahead and put the pedal to the floor.