Bonus lesson: sometimes it is ok to cut corners — Valencia, World Series 2002 — © Rafael Sarandeses

3 Lessons That Professional Car Racing Taught me About Performance

Professional Sports Can be Raw Teachers

1. “Winning” is Something You Can Learn

When you achieve your first pole position, or your first win, the behaviour that made that happen integrates in your identity. A winner is someone that wins. It becomes easier to replicate the result once the breakthrough happens.

You have surely experienced this too. When we achieve a goal or we overcome a challenge we develop grit. Our brains learn that we are able to overcome obstacles, making us cultivate the right behaviours to repeat the desired outcome when needed.

I stopped racing at the age of 23. Since then, I have lived through challenges as an employee and as an entrepreneur. When you know that you have the tools and the stamina to figure things out, you do so.

Executing through challenges becomes “what you do”.

Experiential learning is key to develop a winning mindset. Once you “experience” the results of high performance, performance becomes a regular theme in your everyday life.

2. Small Changes Can Have Large Consequences

On a racing car, you can adjust the ride height to improve the way the car handles. I have seen how lowering the front end of the car by only 1mm would produce an improvement of 0.1–0.2 seconds on the lap time.

This is far from irrelevant. When racing GP3, GP2 or even F1, a mere 0.1 seconds difference is the difference between ending P1 or P3.

Ending P1 or P7 on any given GP3 qualifying session can be a matter of 0.3 seconds (GP3series.com)

In business, focusing on delivering small improvements through the right processes is key. Small changes to the running of meetings, or tweaks to how people communicate or how they manage information, can have a large impact on the organisation effectiveness over time.

You may ask Dr Atul Gawande, author of “The Checklist Manifesto”. In a study published in 2009 by The New England Journal of Medicine, he discovered that asking people to introduce themselves and their expertise before a surgical intervention could have a large impact in the outcome of the operation.

Performance gaps in business are increasingly small and subtle.

In competitive sports, as in modern business, there is less and less “performance slack” around us. Success is now a matter of fine details.

3. Focusing on The “Big Picture” And Not Obsessing With “The Micro Milestones” Is Key For Real Progress

You can’t “dissect” your learning while driving around the track. If you want to try something new for a specific corner, you can’t stop and re-take that turn again. You need to complete a full lap before you can give it another try.

This was a blessing in disguise. Focusing on the whole lap time (my measurable performance) instead of on single corners (the specific issues) allowed for integrative learning. It helped me develop a sense of “flow” instead of breaking momentum to find the best solution possible to specific micro situations.

My experience is that a holistic approach to developing longer-term mastery in any field produces better results than obsessing with one issue, one particular skill, or with obtaining immediate results in the very short term.

Mastery is a long game, and the “Return on Time Invested” in becoming better is not linear. It compounds over time, like interest.

Everyone can ride the initial learning curve, but to become very good at something you need to manage the plateaus that will come as a result of progress. Letting deliberate practice and “time” pay off instead of quitting is what differentiates top performers from the rest.

Conclusion: Top Performers Put it Together And Deliver When it Actually Matters

F1 french driver Alain Prost was well known for not always being the fastest guy in free practice sessions. Still, he delivered an impressive 51 F1 race wins and 4 Formula 1 world championships.

The world has seen plenty of fast drivers who could not back up their strong pace with a win on race day. Others failed to make it to F1 due to their continuous crashing.

To deliver outstanding results we don’t have to be the best at everything we do, all the time.

To seek perfection is a performance curse, not a virtue. Consistency, so that we can be ready to make the most of unplanned opportunities, matters more. On average, those who succeed in business — and life — are those that are wrong less often and perform at their best when when delivering matters.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by + 373,685 people.

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