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  • kenpasternak

Motivation and Continual Learning

When speaking to audiences about business lessons from Formula 1 racing, I am often asked, how do teams that have little chance of being on the winner’s podium stay motivated? I will tell you my reply after I share a personal experience.

In high school I was goalkeeper on the varsity soccer team. At the start, I knew little about the sport and even less about how to play that position. Nevertheless, I was fortunate to use some natural abilities and play with great teammates. We were a very successful team. During one stretch we held our opponents scoreless in 15 straight matches, a feat which got me featured in the ‘Faces in the Crowd’ section of ‘Sports Illustrated’ magazine.

At university, I started on the varsity soccer team in my sophomore year and was fortunate to have an Austrian-born coach who was an expert on the sport and the goalkeeper position. I was motivated and Coach drilled me hard on the skills and mindset of goalkeeping. It paid off in my performances with several accolades coming my way.

Unfortunately, the team did not do very well. Most of my teammates had been used to winning during their high school careers, like me, so not being at the top of the standings was a difficult pill to swallow. The fact that, 50 YEARS later, I still hold the Ivy League record for most career saves, indicates how busy we were on defense.

At every match, the team strived to meet its ambitions, to learn and improve. After a match, we reviewed goals scored against us, discussing how the situation could have been handled differently.

So too, Formula 1 teams at the back of the grid show up each race weekend to perform at their best given the technical and people capabilities at their disposal. They are constantly reviewing their results during testing, qualifying and after the race, looking for ways to learn and improve.

A racing team is always chasing a faster lap time, or a quicker pit stop, or performing better than the team that is positioned one place above them in the standings. It is a matter of pride for F1 team members to give their best for the sake of their drivers, colleagues, sponsors, fans, and themselves.

In sports there can be only one winning team. In business, there are many measures by which an organization can determine what ‘winning’ means, not just profitability. There are many ways to motivate employees to learn, improve, and be the best at what they do. It is up to leaders at all levels of the organization to take responsibility that this happens, just as we were guided by our soccer coach.

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