The 99th Indianapolis 500 motor race just finished its traditional run this past weekend. The IndyCars and the systems used to manage them are some of the best examples of innovation you can find. Each car is computer designed and simulated to increase traction and speed in every part of the track.

During the race, more than 300 sensors, lasers and cameras measure everything about the performance such as tire slip, steering accuracy, engine output and down-force. Large amounts of data are downloaded every lap to allow engineers to plan pit changes and inform the driver of changes he can make “on the fly.” The rules are very specific about horsepower and fuel limits, so the advantage each team hopes to gain is innovation. Any innovation that can increase speed or save fuel could be the difference in winning or losing.

The first Indy winner in 1911 won due to the use of his new innovation – the world’s first rear-view mirror! The other teams all had a passenger in the car to advise the driver, but he won driving solo (and weighing less) thanks to his innovation. Today’s IndyCars are worlds apart from that 1911 winner due to extreme and continual innovation. The 2015 car would be unimaginable to the 1911 winner.

What can we learn from this continual spirit of innovation? Let’s list the ways that these teams use innovation;

  1. Innovation is a team effort. In fact, multiple teams must work together to complete the car. Engines are leased from Chevy or Honda, the chassis is from an Indianapolis company, the tires are from Firestone and the controls are built by multiple contractors. It is truly a cross-functional scheme. When you are designing products for our industry, bring all the aspects together on the implementation team
  2. Safety is always first. In IndyCar racing, any failure can kill the driver or spectators, so extreme care is used to innovate safety into the design. In our industry, we may not be dealing with 250-mile-per-hour cars, but is your product and process safe for all its uses?
  3. Winning is the motivation. The focus on winning the race is the reason for innovation for Indy teams, but is it for your teams? Set goals that will easily define what winning looks like. Is winning defined as selling 10,000 new products the first year? If so, make that the clear goal.
  4. Innovation is the only way to win. The Indy teams know that if they do not innovate every year — and every month — they will not win. Do we have the same culture? Is our future success as dependent on innovation as the IndyCar teams? (If not, it should be.)
  5. Innovation requires management. The most successful team in racing history is Penske Racing with 16 Indianapolis 500 victories. They are successful by managing all the innovation by all the teams to create winners. Planners and schedulers are as important to their successful management program as the engineers and designers.  We should also manage innovation in our companies with this same passion and detail.

One of my goals for the Fenestration Innovation blog is to give you a starting point to your study and use of innovation strategy. Spend some time studying these extreme innovation teams and jump-start your own innovation — start your engines!

Please let me know how it’s going- raygarries@gmail.com and see more ideas on the LinkedIn Fenestration Innovation Network.

1 Comment

  1. What an excellent analogy. I was privileged to spend some time in Penske’s mobile garage during an extensive rain delay. Everyone was still working to perfect their race. The driver was in the car that was spinning it’s wheels while on jacks. Likewise there are no excuses for anyone of us not to constantly prepare and practice to win. Thanks for a great article.

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