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Senior leaders look to Formula One and MIT for learning at high speed

One-day workshops bring executives into the “inner sanctum” of motor sports for innovative insights with real-world applications.
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Formula One driver Max Verstappen on the grid at the Formula One Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix 2019
Formula One driver Max Verstappen on the grid at the Formula One Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix 2019

Last year, a brand-new experiment took place at Formula One tracks around the world. A roaring success, this one-of-a-kind experience is back in 2019.

A collaboration between Formula One and MIT Sloan Executive Education, the F1 Extreme Innovation Series is a meeting of the minds intended to uncover innovative insights from both motor sports and business that have real-world applications. A unique combination of "mens-et-manus" ("mind-and-hand") theory and practice, these engaging one-day workshops bring executives into the “inner sanctum” of motor sports for practical learnings to improve their own business performance.

The unique executive education circuit is now in the midst of its second year and gearing up for the classic British Grand Prix on July 11.

Business theory and practice taken to the extreme

It’s long been said that other organizations can benefit from the rapid-cycle culture and practice of technological innovation that is at the heart of Formula One. In fact, Formula One has given many innovations to the real world — from composite disc brakes to carbon fiber construction to telemetry systems. And F1 cars have been running on hybrid engines since 2014, setting the pace for tremendous advances in road-relevant, sustainable passenger cars.

“F1 is the ultimate petri dish with relevance to so many management disciplines,” says MIT Senior Lecturer Ben Shields, who led the first event in Monza, Italy. “And F1 sits at the intersection of technology and management, as does MIT.”

Formula One has not just been a sporting triumph, but a blueprint for business success as well. “On-track performance from our teams relies on relentless technological innovation that corporations can learn from,” says Sean Bratches, Formula One managing director for commercial operations, and a driving force behind the launch of this series. “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.”

The learning experience

Each F1 MIT Extreme Innovation event has a focused theme with relevance to business as well as motorsport — session themes include "Building a Winning Platform," "Winning Customers," and "Winning with Resilience." Each workshop day features two MIT faculty teaching management, leadership, and strategic frameworks from their own research relevant to the theme — such as the productive management of conflict, developing digital businesses, and the use of analytics for strategic management decisions.

The faculty are paired with senior members of the Formula One community — leaders from current teams (Mercedes, McLaren, Williams), former world champion drivers, and senior executives from Formula One’s commercial organization — carefully selected to provide perspectives on the theme and frameworks from their own perspectives in winning world championships and working with innovative technologies and practices. 

Most importantly, each learning session includes exercises where participants — senior executives from global businesses — apply what they learn to their own business issues. “The application exercises are what make this series different from other business conferences,” says Yath Gangakumaran, director of strategy for Formula One.  “Applying these pragmatic frameworks from MIT, and insights from veteran F1 leaders, make learning and improving business results very real for participants.”

Each event takes place at an F1 circuit on race weekend — surrounded by drivers and teams, with the opportunity to experience the unique atmosphere first-hand through visits to the pit lane, the paddock, and a driver-led circuit tour.

And each event has a keynote speaker, a senior leader brings a distinctive perspective on innovative leadership. Keynotes so far have included Alan Mulally (former CEO of Ford and Boeing Commercial Aircraft) and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.

Veteran Formula One journalist Joe Saward attended the 2018 Extreme Innovation event at the U.S. Grand Prix and wrote ‘It’s a great concept and F1 is doing it really well. It’s been tried before but this time it’s being done properly ... I went away with my head filled with ideas and looking at my own business through different eyes.”

Next stop: Silverstone

The next event in the series will be held on July 11 at the British Grand Prix, with the theme "Winning Against Intense Competition." The workshop will feature a keynote address by Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett Packard and MIT Sloan Fellow alumna, and F1 community members will include 1998-99 F1 World Champion Mika Hakkinen. MIT Sloan’s Alessandro Bonatti and Tara Swart will talk about gaining strategic insights into competitors by applying game theory practices, and how leaders can achieve personal mastery over mind and body required for the highest levels of competition. More information, including the schedule and how to attend, is available at the Formula 1 website.

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