Strategy and Business Execution Lessons Learned from NASCAR

I got hooked on NASCAR back during February 2001 while living in New England. Daytona International Speedway looked wonderful when you've got snow on the ground and freezing temperatures outside. Having found it to be far more interesting than guys merely "driving around the track in a circle," I've continued to follow NASCAR.

This past Saturday, a good friend of mine who attends virtually all NASCAR races in person was lamenting the lack of racing excitement the past couple of years: there's been less passing, less aggressive driving to win individual races, etc. In short, NASCAR isn't as edgy as it once was. What's changed?

In 2003, a system was put in place wherein the Top 10 (now the Top 12) drivers after 70% of the racing season has been completed are eligible to compete for the championship. The result?

My friend offered that drivers aren't driving to win every week--the strategy now is to merely end up as one of the Top 12 drivers in terms of point standings. This is having the unintended consequence of making the racing less exciting to watch as merely staying in the race to earn points to get into the championship takes precedence over everything else. Sadly, this is true for 70% of the racing season.

This revelation made me think about parallels in corporate behaviors.

Is it enough to merely stay "ahead" of your competition? Or, do you want to dominate your marketplace?

Is it enough to only look for incremental product and/or service improvements or do you want to be known as an innovator?

Do you want to spend your life focused on your rear view mirror to see what's happening and react accordingly or do you want to be the leader in your marketplace?

Do you want to offer game-changing products and services or merely be another "me too" company with a slightly larger market share?

Apple has spent little time looking in their rear view mirror and, as a result, enjoys a top spot in the hearts and minds of their customers and investors. I won't name names of companies that have failed to occupy the position that Apple enjoys--you know who they are. Americans have ownership in some of them now.

Think about this. I'd love to hear what you think.

Dave Gardner is a management consultant, speaker, author of Mass Customization: An Enterprise-Wide Business Strategy and blogger who resides in Silicon Valley. He helps companies resolve business execution problems that threaten profitability and growth. He can be reached through his Web site at www.gardnerandassoc.com.

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2 Comments

  • Seth Kahan

    Interesting, David. This 2-stage process (win the Top 12, then compete for #1) serves as an interesting metaphor for business strategy. I wonder how many organizations just try to get on the map before they pull out the stops and go for the gold?