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Senior leaders look to F1 and MIT for learning at high speed

MIT and F1 Extreme Innovation Series

Last month, MIT Sloan faculty conducted an Executive Education event for c-suite business leaders in a most historic and distinctive setting – at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza in Milan, Italy during the weekend of Formula 1’s 2018 Italian Grand Prix. This was the first session of the F1® Extreme Innovation Series—a meeting of F1 and MIT minds intended to share innovative insights from both motorsport and business with real world application for senior executives.

It’s long been said that other organizations can benefit from the rapid “always in beta” culture that is at the heart of F1. In fact, F1 has given many innovations to the real world, from composite disc brakes to carbon fiber to telemetry systems. And F1 cars have been running on hybrid engines since 2014, setting the pace for tremendous advances in hybrid technology in the sport and beyond.

F1 is a fascinating case study to understand not only the implications of major technological shifts, but the disciplined process for innovation that combines both rigorous science and teamwork. Constant data collection and analysis are embedded in the way F1 teams work. Winning F1 teams also have strong leaders who are able to get the most out of their people in high-pressure situations.

“F1 is the ultimate petri dish with relevance to so many management disciplines,” says MIT Senior Lecturer Ben Shields, faculty director at the Monza event. “And F1 sits at the intersection of technology and management, as does MIT.” Shields is no stranger to this intersection, nor that of business and sports. Previously Director of Social Media and Marketing at ESPN, Shields’ research focuses on the intersection of social media technologies, data analytics, and audience behavior in the sports industry. He is also involved in the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference, the premier event in the industry.

“Formula 1 has not just been a sporting triumph, but a blueprint for business success as well,” says Sean Bratches, Formula 1 Managing Director, Commercial Operations, and a driving force behind the launch of this series. “On-track performance from our teams relies on relentless technological innovation that corporations can learn from. Together with MIT management experts, we’re excited to share these lessons so that the next generation can learn how to embed F1-level innovation within their business.”

At the Monza event, held on the Thursday of race weekend, attendees represented the gamut of global businesses, from tech firms and management consultancies to F1 sponsors such as Petronas, all interested in learning how their organizations can become exceptional at data-driven decision making and analytics-informed strategy.

The engaging speakers at Monza brought executives into the “inner sanctum” of how both motorsport and business enable success. The day began with a keynote speech from Alan Mulally, former CEO of the Ford Motor Company and Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Mulally spoke about his principles and practices for leading teams and enterprises of skilled and motivated people – particularly through times of intense competition with formidable competitors. MIT Senior Lecturer then Ben Shields led an animated session on the culture of data-defined decision making and addressing the struggle many organizations face when trying to use analytics to inform their strategy.

After participants broke for a guided track tour of Monza on an open-top truck, MIT Sloan’s Bruce Cameron delivered the second learning stream, entitled Squeezing Out Performance, drawing comparisons between F1 and other businesses that operate with a tight band of performance between the winner and the worst performing competitor. Cameron stressed the importance of a systems thinking approach and analyzing decisions based on the systematic consequences they might have.

This thinking was then further brought to life by Pat Symonds, a 30-year veteran of F1 who once served as Michael Schumacher’s engineer and also worked as CTO for the Williams F1 team. He explained how system thinking is hard-wired in F1. Referencing fascinating telemetry data, he shared how teams analyze every item on the car to see how all the technology is working together as a system.

The themes of the day were woven together in the final segment – an interactive panel discussion with Symonds and Ross Brawn, F1’s Managing Director of Motorsport. Symonds and Brawn, who have together been part of 27 driver and constructor championships in F1, spoke about what they learned from each other as collaborators, and as competitors.

Ben Shields (MIT), Ross Brawn (F1), Pat Symonds (F1) and Bruce Cameron (F1) at the inaugural F1 MIT Extreme Innovation Event August 30th at Monza.

At the end of the day, over drinks in the F1 Paddock directly behind the team garages and motorhomes, attendees networked with each other and discussed their favorite takeaways from the day. All agreed the day offered valuable takeaways - and even thrills!

Next Stop: Austin, Texas

The next F1 Extreme Innovation Series event, Building a Winning Platform, will be held on October 18th at the Formula 1 Pirelli 2018 United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. The day will include research-based and pragmatic management frameworks from MIT faculty; live case examples from F1 experts; a keynote presentation by Steve Wozniak Co-Founder of Apple; and riveting discussions where participants apply those ideas to their own business challenges. Participants will also get a close-up view of the Formula 1 universe—the world class Circuit of the Americas track and the F1 team paddock.

The morning session will speak to building a high performing team and, in particular, how to leverage conflict and competition within teams for creativity, innovation, and high performance. These challenges will be addressed by MIT Professor Nelson Repenning, Faculty Director for the MIT Leadership Center, and Rob Smedley, Head of Vehicle Performance for the Williams Martini Racing Formula One.

The afternoon session will address how to build a high performing digital business platform that engages and delights customers. For example, Formula 1 itself is building a new and multifaceted digital platform to engage its customers and extend the F1 experience in new and innovative ways—including F1 TV, Esports, and social media. This poses new opportunities and also new challenges in executing against high expectations. This session will be led by Ben Shields and Frank Arthofer, Global Head of Digital Media and Licensing at Formula 1.

Tickets for the October session are still available! Don’t miss your chance to join other F1 fans, industry innovators, and thought leaders from around the world for a learning and business-enhancing day like no other.

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