Michael Schumacher, the most successful driver in Formula 1 history, just made his comeback, aged 41. Whatever his reasons may have been (I touched the topic of comebacks in sports before when talking about Evgeni Plushenko here and here), his performance was solid, finishing in 6th place. He is now racing for the “Mercedes GP” team, a newly built team based upon what used to be Brawn GP last season. Schumacher’s comment after the race: “We know that we have a lot of work to be done. But we also knew that before (the race). It was confirmed. We can tackle it now.”
At his last team, the Scuderia Ferrari, the situation was a lot worse when he joined:
In the five years prior to hiring Schumacher, Ferrari had probably the worst streak in the history of the team. From 1991 to 1993, the team did not win any races at all. They fell behind in the development and built cars that were not very competitive, or, as their driver Alain Prost described it: “The car was harder to drive than a truck. The first groundbreaking decision was to hire Jean Todt as a sporting director in 1993. After winning a combined two race in 1994 and 1995, Todt went for the big change by bringing in Schumacher (in 1995), technical director Ross Brawn and car designer Rory Byrne (both in 1996). The years that followed were some of the most successful a Formula 1 team ever had. The Ferrari team won the Constructors’ Championship seven times since, Schumacher won five Drivers’ Championships prior to retiring in 2006.
Why did this turnaround happen?
There’s a couple of possible reasons, ranging from huge budgets used to hiring the best people in their respective fields. However, that does not guarantee great results (Don’t believe it? Just look at how Real Madrid dropped out of the UEFA Champions League last week! By the way: Real in recent years might be another story worth talking about in a future post…).
My feeling is that the combination of very diverse skills and characters was causing this great performance.
A highly emotional, motivated team filled with pride (Ferrari) a perfectionist and great information gatherer (Schumacher), fact oriented, to the point developers (Byrne, Brawn) and someone who glues it all together with emotion (Todt).
Diversity is a term that you can read in probably 99% of all groups’ annual reports, however most of them consider “fair” quotas women vs. men, black vs. white, old vs. young, local vs. foreigners, etc. as the decisive factors. I don’t believe in this. It’s the soft factors that matter. The problem: Often these are not measurable, which lowers their prominence. What a mistake!
It’s not only about sociology, experience or skills, cognitive variety is more important than ever.
I had the pleasure to see a presentation given by Stanford Professor Emeritus Douglass J. Wilde on what he calls “Teamology” . Not only does he prove the point I just made, but he also gives a scientific idea on how to best build diverse teams. For doing so he uses know models like C.G. Jung’s Cognitive Models or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).
It’s relatively simple to implement Wilde’s approach when e.g. setting up project teams. But from your experience: Who does? Instead, what most of us often hear is stuff like “we need a woman on the team” or “is there someone from Asia available to participate”. Good idea, but why?
I asked that question a couple of times and people were looking at me in a quite bemused way. “Because diversity is important”. Yeah, right, but what is diversity? Diversity of what?
As long as we stick to the hard factors we will never win a race. Being bold enough to build a diverse team based upon cognitive, i.e. soft factors, can create the leap the Scuderia Ferrari saw in the mid 1990s. And even though these factors are called “soft”, it is harder to do than anything else.
Is it worth the effort? Well, while Schumacher finished in 6th place in Bahrain, Ferrari, his old team, came in first and second. With the exception of 2005 and 2009, they were the best or second best team in the Constructors’ Championship in every year since the turnaround.They learned their lesson on how to compose a diverse team in a way that enabled them to continue being successful even when key personnel (Schumacher, Todt, Brawn) left.
And Schumacher? His “We know that we have a lot of work to be done” might also refer to building a diverse team. Will be an interesting season to watch…