A Formula for Elite Performance

99% of all innovation is tiny increments and looking for these every day must be part of your organisation’s DNA.

Maintain a Challenger’s mentality, but with a Champion’s confidence. Use this to build a culture of constant Collaboration and Innovation.

In the first week of June I visited Bermuda and was granted the privilege of getting a behind the scenes insight into Oracle, Team USA, the defender of the 35th America’s Cup. The modern day America’s Cup brings together elite athletic performance and cutting edge technology in a way only matched by Formula 1 racing. I would personally argue that the America’s Cup poses a greater challenge to the teams as the actual races comprise a team of sailors (compared to a single driver in Formula 1) and competitions are only held every 3 to 4 years (rather than a championship each year).

To again defend the America’s Cup, which the team first won in 2010 and successfully defended in 2013, Oracle have assembled a team of approximately 45 men and women from all over the world. This elite group includes sailors, tacticians, engineers, designers, sailmakers, strength and conditioning coaches, medical staff, nutritionists, chefs, an administrative team and a marketing / local liaison attaché. If this defence is to be successful this diverse group will need to produce a boat which will be technically superior to anything ever raced by anyone in the world…ever. It is widely acknowledged that in each America’s Cup campaign ALL competing boats are superior to anything ever used before. This is how rapid the rate of innovation is.

The team will need to develop and adapt tactics which take into consideration the boat’s strengths and weaknesses, the strengths and weaknesses of their competitors, the crews’ abilities and the unique conditions posed by the course in Bermuda.

The crew will then need to produce a physically and mentally elite performance. They will have prepared for over two years for this. Their daily routine is rigorous, disciplined and meticulously planned.

These points in themselves are astounding but what I admired most about the team was the collaboration between the various team members. Seeing a team leader and tactician in his mid-fifties, a slightly overweight engineer in his forties, a skipper in his thirties and a 24 year old crewman with a physique that defied belief huddled together discussing how best to implement a new technological development that would give the team an extra fraction of speed in light winds was quite amazing. Think about the last time you saw a meeting that couldn’t make progress on an idea despite having basically the same perspective and background.

So many things about the team, its environment and culture warrant discussion but two points stood out to me above all else;

99% of all innovation is tiny increments and looking for these every day must be part of your organisation’s DNA.

The other 1% must be revolutionary. Dave, a team engineer at Oracle, told me that an idea has to be “truly bizarre” to get anyone’s attention. 

There is no point having “sort of radical” ideas because these still carry great risk but without the returns of the truly bizarre!

So I wish Oracle, Team USA the best of luck when they launch their Cup defence next year in Bermuda and I thank them for some truly inspirational insights into what it takes to be the world’s best. They compete in sporting contests but the lessons hold true for all organisations.

This post by Nick Falzon first appeared on the PKF website and is republished here with full permission