Bloodhound SSC – Being a Social Business at 1000MPH

To have a team reach it’s absolute full potential, you need to set the right environment. Bloodhound SSC does this perfectly.

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.

Bloodhound SSC

SSC-frontEnter the Bloodhound SSC. Currently being developed and build somewhere near Bristol, in the UK, by a 90 people strong team of amazing variety.

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.

Corporate Culture

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.

Third Party

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;

      1. 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
      2. A culture that inspires trust, support and willingness to collaborate
      3. 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.

Walking the Social Business Walk

walk-the-walkA friend of mine started work at a relatively modern company with a relatively modern product. It’s a product that’s always needed, so there is always a market. The initial impressions are really good. Before her first day she received an email with a bunch of information. Mainly about her first day (and week), her account on the company network, and of course about the culture of the company.

After starting her job she hears about how social this company is, how it connects with customers, how green and ecologically conscious it is. Combining these two impressions and you might be tricked into believing this company is well on its way to becoming a Social Business.

Well.., you’d be wrong.

Still Old School

Once in the office for a while, she started to notice that it was pretty much like any old office ever was. People had a little too much work, working late was accepted as normal, systems did not tie in with in each other, training was done haphazardly, and communication was…, well.., lets say email still prevails.

All in all, the picture painted by the interviews and initial communications did not reflect the experience of the employee at all.

So why is it that she doesn’t notice anything from all those initiatives on the ground floor?

I get the distinct impression that this company tries really hard to make it look like it’s pretty social, but that it’s more like window dressing, ticking the boxes.

But, if an employee, at her desk, still feels she works for a disorganised, old school, “normal” company, then what are the efforts really worth? And is the company missing a golden opportunity.

Or, are their intentions genuine, but the execution poor. This is not unthinkable, in a recent rapport by Adi Gaskel I read that 80% of all SocBiz initiatives fail. So, there is a (very) fair chance that’s the problem, we could give them the benefit of the doubt.

Having a Social Media presence does not make for a Social Business.

Global Companies

Now, this company we’re talking about is an American company, but the office my friend works at is in Europe. Contact with the US is minimal and ‘we’ even have no clue who the CEO is.

This can pose a problem.

If we give the company the benefit of the doubt, and we assume that they do have significant initiatives planned (or in progress) to socialise the business more, than somewhere down the line this message is not heard, or not acted upon.

This could very well be a result of that 80% we mentioned earlier.

Something that gets easily accepted in one culture, might not be easily accepted in another.

Walk the Walk

It may very well be (and I do not know this for sure, but we decided to give the benefit of the doubt, remember), that US HQ has a bunch of initiatives, and that a plan is in place to bring the company into the 21st century.

It may very well be they are talking the talk.

Making a plan is one thing, executing the plan quite a different one.

Granted, in business, changes happen on a regular basis. Budgets have to be kept in check, objectives have to be met, new products launched, a merger, new software, new leadership, bigger office… many things change. However, we are accustomed to these kind of changes.., we even come to expect them, they are part of our working life. Therefore, they tend to be accepted and adopted with relative ease. Mind you, I do mean relative, some changes are harder than others, but they still happen.

Social Business tends to be a more fundamental change, more profound.., and more significant. This brings with it a lot more apprehension, and requires a lot more attention.

The adaptation to a Social Business is not a regular change. And cannot be deployed as such.


In general it can be said that the adaptations needed to become a Social Business are fundamental, especially in a full fledged overhaul.

We change the way people go about there daily work life.
We change the way they communicate.
We change the way the company communicates (to employees, customers and partners).

Therefore it is extremely important to follow up on the plans. Simply sending a memo throughout the company will not have the desired effect. In fact, quite the opposite, you can expect significant resistance when you simply ‘drop’ the talk on people.

Change is the one constant, while adapting to change is the most difficult.

Two Plans

There has to be two plans, one laying out the changes, where we want to end up, what you want to achieve.., and why!
The other, how do you achieve this.

In my experience, there’s always some hand holding going on with any change. Some people need a bit more attention than others, take a bit more convincing. Usually a project leader, or even someone from the helpdesk can cover that task.

In Social Business, it’s a bit more complicated than that. The changes usually affect every person within the company, and we have to assume that most will resist on some level. Therefore, a structured approach to reach every single individual to get them ‘on board’ has to be considered.

Social Business is a long term commitment.

The Message

Becoming a Social Business takes time.., depending on the state and culture of your company.., maybe a lot of time.

Simply having an idea, reading a blogpost, or attending a conference doesn’t provide enough tools to complete this monumental task. Chances are you need outside help.

As leadership of a company, this change is most likely outside the realm of any job description you have at the moment.

A good community manager is essential for the long term stability of your social platform.
A SocBiz evangelist will be needed to ‘convert’ people, help them adapt.
A CSO (Chief Social Officer) might be appointed to oversee the continuous progress and development of the program.

The list can be longer, depending on your needs. Any business, any company, any organisation and even governmental institutions can benefit from at least some ideas within the realm of Social Business.

Bottom line, don’t be part of that 80% and waste a lot of time, money and energy on ideas which are doomed to fail.

Enterprise 2.0 Summit

banner-longOn 26th November, another #E20S event is organised in London. Speakers will talk about how companies can benefit from Social Business. How to make sure your efforts are not wasted.

Here you can, in one day, get a good understanding of the pains and gains of the Digital Transformation.

The Importance of Empathy

MRI-inPostEmpathy, apparently the definition is more complex than I thought. However, in the context of the workplace environment I believe the following suits best:

the power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person’s feelings


In a just released study, named Voluntary Enhancement of Neural Signatures of Affiliative Emotion Using fMRI Neurofeedback, scientists found that they could stimulate affiliative emotions of their subjects. The bottom line of this research is that, quite possibly, empathy can be trained.

Now, I’m not a scientist, and the “training” is not really applicable in a normal office environment, you would need a MRI and a laboratory. But, at the very least, this team proved that it can be done. And, basically, they did this by encouraging positive emotions.

In the white paper the team has a reference to Blade Runner, that gives you an automatic +1 in my book. When it happens in a scientific context.., another +1. And, I find ’empathy’ a crucial element in human relationships, at home or at work. So, that’s another +1, making an easy +3 for the team.

So, let me reference Blade Runner too, and talk about empathy for a bit more.

Being Empathic

In Blade Runner the replicants were tested on their affiliative emotions. A lack of empathy could give them away, causing them to be retired by Blade Runner’s, a nasty business. Being a human with very poor empathic skills could land you in some deep water.

Moving to another Universe, in Star Trek: TNG, Counselor Troi, half Betazoid possesses the psionic ability to sense emotions. Making her an extremely empathic person (as well as impathic). This gives her the ability to ‘sense’ what the other person is feeling, with regular ‘patients’ this helps her to break down barriers quicker, and help them better.

In the case of enemies, knowing whether they are sincere or lying can provide a huge tactical advantage.

The point here being that empathy is a fundamentally important part of inter-human relations, and being aware of this is a step in the right direction.

In A Modern World

Of course, empathy has always been an important addition to your toolbox. A total lack of empathy, or affiliative emotions, kinda turns you into a psychopath, well, partly anyway.

Lack of empathy simply inhibits you to connect with the person opposite of you. At least on an emotional level. Luckily there is still non-verbal communication, and this still has a strong effect on the way we perceive the person across from us, and the meaning of their words.

Registering emotions help of course, but in a person-to-person situation there are other signals.

Not so online.


Now we use emoticons, or other shorthand to convey emotion. But, a 🙂 is still just a 🙂 . There’s no difference between 🙂 and 🙂 . Maybe you could do a 😀 , or even a 😛 , but anything beyond that gets complicated. And it requires you to remember all the emoticons applicable for a certain emotion, or take the time to look them up every time you need one.

And even if you do nail it to your satisfaction.., it still leaves room for interpretation.

Because you don’t actually see the person you’re talking to, often not even in real-time, it can be difficult to read between the lines. Even on a video-call it can be tricky, although less so.

When you translate this to the office and to the modern communication devices (i.e. e-mail) it can even become somewhat dangerous, or at least damaging. Whole departments can get at each others throats because of a wrongfully interpreted message.

Escalation is never far away.

Digital Village

In a modern, 21ste century company, (some) people try and replace e-mail. We, in The Business, look at it as an old, limiting and bloated communication tool. The biggest problem with e-mail is its capacity to black hole knowledge. Sharing and storing information in your e-mail client is a sure way of making sure nobody will ever find it.

So, we introduce an open online collaboration tool where everything gets tagged, shared, commented on, liked, and… stored. This makes information highly findable for anybody who needs it. Given everything is tagged correctly of course.

Also, we aim to make the Digital Village a platform where all employees can feel at home, comfortable to pitch ideas, and ask “stupid” questions. Nobody gets burned simply by sticking their head above the fence.

At least, that’s what we aim for.

Here, I believe, empathy is at its most important. Here the difference between making somebody feel at ease and making them feel ashamed is a tremendously thin line. And without proper “feels”, even the best of intentions can have a negative effect.

Big Hurdles

For some, picking up the phone, or sending that e-mail, or walking into the managers office are sheer feats of courage. Others don’t bat an eye.

Exposing one’s self on an open platform where even the CEO can see what you’re doing can be so daunting that many people simply won’t even try. Making them feel welcome and at ease takes some doing from the community, the community manager, and management, as well as some colleagues.

Being sensitive enough to be able to emotionally connect with these people is a crucial skill indeed. With the right support and understanding (i.e. empathy) many of these employees have an opportunity to flourish on the internal network(s). If they get burned badly by trolls, or insensitivity, they might never try again.

Wouldn’t it be great to send some colleagues on a training where they can learn empathy?