5 ways to develop your ingenuity from Williams Martini Racing

If you think business is fast paced these days, try working in a Formula 1 pit crew. In 2016, Williams Martini Racing equalled the fastest pitstop in history, clocking in at an extraordinary 1.92 seconds. More remarkably, just a season earlier Williams’ pitstops were amongst the slowest on the F1 circuit. The change was galvanised by the ingenuity of their people, using inventiveness and resourcefulness to solve their challenges on the track.

Success in business requires this same ingenuity. Uncompromising customers demand inventive solutions. Yet in the workplace, the focus is still heavily on developing functional skills rather than ingenuity. According to a recent Brand Learning study, less than 1 in 4 organisations harness the ingenuity of their people to deliver winning customer experiences.

Here’s 5 ways the Williams Martini Racing F1 team develop ingenuity in their people that we can all learn from.[1]

1. Connect passion to purpose

Williams’ purpose is winning on the race track and ultimately the F1 Championship. Everyone (from commercial teams to the pit crew) is passionate about this, because Williams recruit people with a winning mind-set and use the purpose as their ‘north star’ in driving continuous improvement. Driven by passion and a will to win, the struggling pit crew worked 24/7 through the off season to break down every component of the pitstops (including biometric analysis of their own physical condition) to devise new ways to improve performance.

Only by connecting people’s passions to a meaningful purpose can you instil a shared ingenuity to make things better. Spend time understanding what your people really care about and link this to your company’s purpose for customers.

2. Obsess about the small stuff

Whoever said ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ obviously hasn’t worked at Williams. They are obsessed by the details and finding marginal gains in performance - it’s the source for their people’s creativity. To improve their pitstops, they interrogated every aspect of performance both on and off the car. They realised they lost a 10th of a fraction of a second when the chief mechanic released the car as he had to check the pit lane for traffic. This can be the difference between a place at the finish. The novel solution was to add a ‘visual person’ into the team whose only job is to watch the pit lane, so the chief mechanic can focus solely on the release.

Obsess about the details of your customers’ experience, be curious about every aspect of their lives, and uncover granular insights to inspire new ideas. Amazon is one the most inventive companies in the world, one of their key leadership principles… ‘Deep Dive - stay connected to the details’.

3. Seek solutions in unusual places

Williams teams develop ingenuity by seeking solutions in unusual places. In high pressure and fast paced situations on race day, how could they ensure seamless communication between drivers and pit crew who are all wearing helmets? They looked for solutions in the science of hand signals to devise a new system for communicating without speaking. The system ensures everyone knows where their hands should be at every point and uses luminous colour gloves to help visibility. Through hand signals alone, drivers and crew know instantly when all the tyres have been successfully changed, and the driver can move off.

The usual sources of market research won’t unlock true ingenuity. Make it your daily practice to learn something new in an unusual area. What ideas does it generate and how can you relate it to your business challenges?

4. Continuously push the boundaries

Williams’ pit crew are now number 1, but they’re winners and they don’t want to lose the top spot. They continue to challenge each other – if we changed this component of the wheel, could we shave off another second? How can we work with drivers so they stop exactly on the spot so they don’t have to re-adjust? Can we fit everyone with GPS so they can adjust before the car actually stops? Continuous focus on pushing the boundaries compels teams to look for new creative ways to improve performance.

Do you challenge yourself and others to continuously raise the bar? Only through continuing to set impossible goals, can you galvanise people to use their ingenuity to try to do impossible things.

5. Overcome the fear of failure

Henry Ford, who also knew a thing or two about cars, once said ‘There is no disgrace in honest failure, there is disgrace in fearing to fail”.

At Williams, failure is not feared. Instead they deal with failure openly, talking honestly about what worked and what hasn’t, critically appraising each other in a positive way to keep improving. This makes their people bold in pursuing new ideas - they know they won’t be made a scapegoat. At Monday morning meetings after a Sunday race day, everyone reviews performance, takes accountability and agrees what they can do better individually and as a team. As Richard Berry, Williams Head of Commercial commented “In the sporting environment, you take the time out to think about what went wrong and the right way of doing it next time. A pitstop is the ultimate articulation of that, but we do that across the board”.

Don’t just talk glibly about ‘embracing failure’, help your team become bolder by dealing with failure honestly. Take time to evaluate failure and use the learnings to benefit the whole team. The shift away from a culture of blame will make people unafraid to bring their ingenuity to work every day.

Brand Learning’s study, Join up to stand apart, provides fresh insights and practical solutions on how to develop customer experiences with purpose at their heart and includes in-depth case studies from over 20 leading organisations such as Amazon, Virgin, First Direct, and Airbnb. For practical tips and examples that will help you deliver a purposeful and consistent customer experience, download the report.

BRAND LEARNING: Inspiring people. Lifting capabilities. Growing organisations.


[1] Special thanks to Williams Martini Racing and their Head of Commercial, Richard Berry for his insights and ingenuity in developing this article.