Monday, April 25, 2011

New meets the old! Trevor Bayne - a NASCAR analogy for management

Weird Management #2
(I wrote this right after the Daytona 500 race in February / March 2011 and discussed it in my Business Fundamentals class - students thought I was weird - but a good lesson in having and keeping a new perspective)

Trevor Bayne – An analogy of essential 21st century business management
As an instructor of business management, I am always looking to discuss current events that can be used in a classroom to illustrate real life management to students with little or no work experience other than babysitting, camp counselor, or ice cream server. I also am not keen on lecturing ad naseum about what I know - which is not much to be honest in the grand scheme of things. Yet, unique start-up  successes or daily corporate big wigs screw-ups constantly give me classroom fodder to provide insight, humor and storytelling opportunities. With which the break-neck speed our world evolves in the face of globalization and technology, it is important to recognize stories that put into context managerial dilemmas for TODAY not yesterday. The world is changing and those of us who teach and consultant just try to keep up by offering a “real world” view of business. However, sometimes I do not pull it off as well as I would like but I’ll try to in a weird way with this particular blog!  
Nineteen-year-old Trevor Bayne had never driven the daunting two-mile track at Daytona, Florida before that day in February before his 20th birthday when he drove from his home in Knoxville Tennessee. Without even a change of clothes only armed with an iPod and a couple of bottles of Gatorade in true adolescent, minimalist male style, Bayne was just happy to be doing what he loves – drive! To know veteran competitors like Ricky Rudd, Kyle Busch, and Jeff Gordon would surround him was enough to keep him humble. These “rock star” racecar veterans had driven this world-famous Florida track countless of times; Bayne was there for the first time and he won.
Now let us look at this from an “environmental” perspective. For those NOT in the know from a business management perspective – environment is anything external or surrounding a business from which resources are drawn (supplies, people, customers, etc.). In this particular scenario, the environment is the “track” – specifically Daytona 500 racetrack.   Bayne had never driven on this track before race day so what is it that he had that the others did not on that particular day? While I think many would like to attribute his win to just plain, dumb luck, much can be said for paradigm, perspective, creativity, and a supportive team.  The track at Daytona had been completely repaved in 2010 thus altering the track experience for each of the veteran drivers. Trevor Bayne had never driven on that track before the repave – he had zero preconceptions. He had no assumptions about anything related to that track. Everyone else did and it had changed – dramatically.
2010 Daytona Repave

While I’m not a huge fan of NASCAR and it’s demon worship of the almighty automobile that contributes to the collective expansion of our countries waist line and the reduction of all of our natural resources, I do appreciate the value that this particular industry offers in very real and valuable insight into the current state of business in the US. It continues to grow and flourish. While this particular race quickly launched a career for a young, ambitious and clearly talented driver from obscurity to rock star (check out his website) it also remains an American obsession with each race tallying up a greater number of fans  making it one of the most popular sporting events in the world. The amount of time, money, resources, media airtime and attention toward this particular event is worth billions to the auto and related industries and NASCAR – this all on a sport that entails driving fast and turning left. If I were an alien from outer space, I’d think these humans were NUTS!
Yet this is a unique argument for managerial perspective and to recognize the limitations of preconceptions that interfere with performing effectively and efficiently. In business, I see this as an incredible truism with many old business models that are repeated over and over again. It is like management schizophrenia – “… if we keep doing the same thing over and over again, maybe something around us will change – or better yet – bail us out! Hmmm – sound familiar? So I want to propose that the next time your management team tries to adopt a new business model that looks extremely familiar or starts using terminology that sounds spiffy like “milestones” or “bench marks” – consider Trevor Bayne and his team, Wood Brothers racing. This team had nothing to lose and were preparing to back out of racing all together. They put all their faith into this youngster while backed by the monolithic Ford Motor Company. Wood Brothers are a small but historically significant organization (established in 1950) that were heading to obscurity – they needed a golden ticket to return to the much-needed limelight of racing. They weren’t sure how to do that but what they did know was they had a fearless competitor in Bayne. “We decided that he (Bayne) didn’t know how to do it wrong. It’s new to him. It’s all brand new, so however he did it was correct.” said Eddie Wood (Ford Racing Notes, Feb 20, 2011).  While Bayne may seems to be the overall winner here, he could not have done it without the experience, desperation, and fortitude of the racing team that rattled instructions in his ear and supported his willingness to take risks – BIG risks which clearly paid off.
So what did we learn:
·         Learn from the old guys/gals
·         Still trust your gut
·         Take BIG risks
·         Surround yourself with smart people
·         The environment is always changing – so don’t assume what the old guys/gals say is true for NOW

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