I grew up a race car fan (I still am to some degree), my Father raced professionally when I was young and I’ve held on to the car bug all these years.
Recently I read the (semi) autobiography of Mark Donahue entitled The Unfair Advantage.
Who is Mark Donahue? Although quite successful in his racing career, winning multiple SCCA Championships, The inaugural IROC Championship, the Pocono 500 in 1971 and the Indy 500 in 1972, Donohue did not capture the heart of the American fans, thus he stayed in relative obscurity to those outside of racing.
He didn’t have the Unser name or the good looks of Mario Andretti or the quotable quotes of an A.J. Foyt, but what he did have made him very successful. So what did he have? A tenacious appetite to find what he referred to as an “Unfair Advantage”.
The Unfair Advantage consisted of literally anything that would help him cross the finish line first. Starting his career as a mechanical engineer, naturally this unfair advantage was often how he and (Roger) Penske setup a car’s suspension, running test after test on skid pads (a relatively unused tool at the time), renting track time for testing, consulting and working with factory engineers and hours of trial and error.
But his unfair advantage philosophy went far beyond his core education and branched out into all facets of racing, including aerodynamics, tire adhesion, engine design, experimental wings, and more.
On one occasion he and the Penske team had an idea to raise their fueling tower to increase fueling times during pit stops. They combed the rule book for hours and found nothing to prevent this innovation. They’re strategy worked by reducing fueling times (the longest part of a pit stop) from 13 seconds down to 3.5 seconds. This unfair advantage put them way ahead of the competition.
On another occasion, they’re Unfair Advantage, for long distance races such as Le Mans and Sebring, was to develop a method to replace brake pads in a fraction of the time as the current conventional method. Typically replacing brake pads (which had to be done several times before newer modern compounds were created) took anywhere from 15 – 25 minutes. They’re method (using the built In vacuum form the braking system to recede calipers shortened the process down to less than five minutes. Imagine, when racing and every second counts, gaining a ten to fifteen MINUTE advantage over your completion every time they pitted for brake pads. Collectively they could gain more than an hour advantage in a 24 hour race.
So how does all this relate to YOUR business?
I think you probably see it already, find your Unfair Advantage. Instead of just running a company and maintaining the status quo, work hard to find the unique things you or your personnel can do that no other company in your industry can. Whether it’s a faster way to install equipment, an easier way for your client to pay, cutting out steps for filing paperwork, etc., strive to improve your system. Every minute of time you save in a process and every dollar you save in production, implementation and completion of work or a project is an advantage to your company.
Learn from those that have gone before you, adapt, innovate and find your Unfair Advantage.