A little heads up; This is about social business, but also about cars and about speed. I like social business and I like cars and speed, so, an excellent combo I’d say.
Building a complex system usually takes more than one person. Building a new car for instance takes multiple designers and engineers, a team. This team has to work closely together to create an end product which is reliable.
When you choose to build a car that has a 1000bhp, can top 400km/h (250mph) and still be able to be driven daily in great luxurious comfort, you’d need an exceptional team and unlimited funds. Volkswagen Group did this with the Bugatti Veyron (a car I absolutely love and admire). And yes, in case you didn’t know, the Veyron is a very impressive Volkswagen.
However, all the engineering was done in-house, and all the financing was provided by Volkswagen, in essence, a select team was given the task of building a million Euro car with epic statistics, in a closed (and secret) environment.
Yes, we get to the Bloodhound in a minute. But first:
The Land Speed Record
The current Land Speed Record, the highest speed achieved by a wheeled vehicle on land, stands at a blistering 1227.986 km/h (763.035 mph).
Andy Green (or Wing Commander Andy D. Green OBE BA RAF) is the undisputed fastest man on the planet, and I do mean ON the planet. He holds the record. In fact, he broke his own record with a second run of the ThrustSSC in 1997. The first and only man to go supersonic on land.
People have moved faster, for instance, the SR-71 Blackbird still holds the record of fastest (manned air-breathing jet) aircraft at 3,529.6 km/h (2,193.2 mph), achieved in 1976. Funny side note, in 1903 Wilbur Wright hold that same record with 10.98 km/h (6.82 mph).
Back to the ground. Speed has enticed mankind throughout history to go faster and faster, especially motorised speed. Drag racing has always been popular. From winning a drag race on the street with a stock Chevy in the 50’s to the fully electric cars (like Black Current III) with their tremendous instant torque. Even a fully electric Tesla 4-door saloon out-drags a Ferrari 458 Italia.
However, racing for top speeds is a totally different ball game (or car game). A drag race usually cuts out after 1/4 mile. To reach a top speed, you’d need a lot more space and a lot more power.
For the sake of perspective; Back to the the Bugatti Veyron. The SuperSport reached 431 km/h (267 mph). It has 1200 bhp. Getting the car up to 250 km/h (155 mph) is easy, it only takes 270 bhp to do that (a Ferrari 328 GTB from 1986 had that much power).
No, it’s the second half of that speed which requires the other 1000 bhp. See, the faster you go, the more friction you create and the more air resistance you have to push through. And that can reach epic proportions.
Now imagine almost quadrupling the speed the Veyron achieved (as a production car). And imagine what it takes to reach 1609 km/h (the magic 1000 mph).
I just wanted to set the scene and give you an idea what it takes to achieve what the Bloodhound SSC team has set out to do.
Now, I can write many a page about the technical details and the mind numbing figures of this project, but you can read all about that on their site. You can also watch the video below for a digested version. So, no extensive technical stuff.
Here’s where we head back to Social Business.
A Joint Effort
With their multi-disciplined team the project needs to cover all eventualities which arise from building such an incredible machine. There is of course a lot of experience, not in the least from the pilot, Andy Green. But, pushing into the unknown is always difficult and potentially dangerous.
And not one person can think of everything and solve every problem, no matter how brilliant. Thoroughly depending on the team around you takes a lot of trust. It even takes more than trust, it takes courage too.
The courage to ask a question, to express a worry or simply let somebody know that you just can’t solve the problem. Failing to do this might result in disaster when the rocket kicks in at 350 mph and takes over from the jet engine (because obviously you need both to get to 1000 mph).
Now, don’t go and take this for granted, because most of us will not do this. Most of us even had a very hard time raising our hand in class to express we didn’t understand what was just explained, I never did, and I won’t accept that my other classmates understood everything on the first go. But no hands were raised, ever.
This translates into the working environment too. And it is more than just the conditioned behaviour of not risking exposure. In the adult version we can add peer-competition (protecting what you’ve got), and fear of reprimands. Managers in general do not like to be corrected or hearing about problems, and in some cases they wouldn’t know what to do with it anyway.
Or lack thereof… My guess, this is what they’ve got absolutely spot on at Bloodhound SSC. They needed to create an environment where every member of the team can reach hers/his full potential. This might not even have been a concious decision. When searching for the right people, and you have the right attitude, you’ll be able to select people with a similar attitude.
And I’ll bet that anybody who doesn’t fit the team, has to big of an ego, or simply doesn’t deliver what was promised is simply ejected (unless that person can be taught and shows plenty of progress).
My point is, this project would fail miserably in a classic corporate culture. Unless it is driven with (near) unlimited funds by a dedicated elite team of engineers, like the Bugatti.
Unlike Volkswagen being able to build a lot of the parts in house, and having whatever they need build by specialised companies at great cost. Bloodhound SSC needs a lot of help and charity to get all the parts they need.
The Bugatti Veyron cost a staggering €25 million to build, yet the price tag was a mere €1 million. This showed very much the intend of the car maker, and what it takes to be so extreme.
Bloodhound SSC is far more extreme, therefore they need a lot more outside help. Income the sponsors and the partners. There are a lot of them.
Not only do they provide materials, they often need themselves to go above and beyond their comfort zone.
For instance: Rolls Royce provides the jet-engine (three of them actually), this is not a huge problem, these engines come from a Eurofighter and have reached their end-of life. Plus, they can be used pretty much as is. So, it’s material and ‘standard’ expertise they provide.
On the other hand, Jaguar provides an engine which is used to pump the fuel for the rocket (yes, they use a V8 Supercharged F-Type engine as a fuel pump). But a standard engine just wouldn’t do, it would tear itself apart under the unbelievable G-Forces created by the acceleration. So Jaguar had to rebuild the engine to specifications well beyond their usual line. They build three.
This takes commitment. And again something that the project itself exudes.
The Right Stuff
Everything about the project is just spot on. Even all the engineering they do, the little (and big) inventions they make are shared. Nothing goes to waste or is kept behind close doors. They can’t afford that, they need all the help they can get.., and they don’t want to, because they see the importance of the ground breaking engineering they do.
They do use some classified military stuff which they can’t share, but everything else is open source.
They also invite schools to participate, and educate whoever wants to listen. They want to share, they want people to be involved, not just for publicity sake (if at all), but for inspiring young people (and old I guess) to take an interest in engineering and science. Trying to get a new generation excited enough to brake the amazing record they are about to set.
When you think about, the philosophy created for this epic project is scalable to any project. I brake it down into three sections;
- You need the right people on your team to get the job done. And you need to trust them to a) do their job and b) ask for help when needed
- A culture that inspires trust, support and willingness to collaborate
- Excellent relations with partners (outside the project team), fill in the gaps by selected expertise (devoid if ego or hidden agendas).
This is where you want to end up as a company. To create purposeful teams where and when you need a specific output. These teams are either hand picked by a thoughtful and selfless leader, or put together by volunteers who see themselves fulfil the tasks as required.
But in order to do this, and I know I sound like a broken record, you need a culture which supports and encourages this behaviour. If you do not have this, nothing will ever happen.
Then, when your core team does the magic, have the ability to draw upon any speciality within the company to get smaller parts of the whole fixed. Here’s where a solid ESN comes into play. When communicating about your project, co-workers who are interested might choose to follow the progress. And when a specific problem arises and a question is asked, chances are somebody outside the project team is able to answer the question or solve the problem.
The theory is not difficult. Implementing it is.
Having a common interest, a common drive to reach a goal none could hope to reach on their own is a fantastic way to achieve this level of cohesiveness.
So inspire your employees to be confident, challenge them. Give them a reason to go out on a limb, to raise their hand when they have a question. And above all, support them when they raise an issue or fail trying something out of the box.
Your business can hit 1000 mph too.
The video below is made by Chris Harris on Cars, one of my favourite car channels on YouTube.