Rich racing his BMW at Sebring - January 2019
Rich is one of my racing buddies. We don’t race together, but we compare notes about racing. In this conversation Rich was kind enough to talk about how he came to be a racer. As we talked, I realized that I could use our conversation to write about the differences between promotion and prevention focuses in our work and lives away from work.
Rich and I race in different types of events. I compete in sprint races. They last 35 minutes or so. There are no pit stops for tires or gas and there are no driver changes in a sprint race. Rich races sprints but spends more time endurance racing where you have teammates and have to figure out a strategy to balance getting the most performance out of your car while still preserving it enough to last several hours. He also functions as his team’s manager.
Both Rich and I started out by doing track days with instructors and moved from there to racing within a couple of years. Rich explained that early on he was doing track days with some friends and that before too long he was going faster than they were. When they asked how he got to be so fast so quickly he explained that he prepared for his track days rather than just arriving and driving. Rich prepared for his track days by learning a track before he arrived by doing things like watching in-car videos posted by other drivers. Preparation comes naturally to Rich when he is faced with a challenge, but as he explained to me, experience has taught hm that he does better when he prepares. This style also makes him a really good insurance company CEO.
Afterall would you rather have a shoot-from-the-hip-guy running the company that insures you and your family, or someone that considers the full range of possibilities and does their best to safeguard your interests while taking risks that are in proportion, so as to not do your interests any harm? Part of Rich’s experience includes work in sales, so although he is in prevention focused industry he understands how a promotion focused person thinks too. If you are a more promotion focused person like me you might to be willing to try things that might be a bit more risky without the same amount of preparation that a prevention focused person might feel comfortable with.
Rich told me that he regards his job as one in which he has to balance the needs of both sides of his insurance house (the promotion focused sales folks and the prevention focused actuaries) by sticking with a decision-making process that weighs risk. At the risk of generalizing, I would say that most people perceive racing drivers to be very risk tolerant. I think that’s a fair generalization, but I would also say promotion and prevention live within all of us in some proportion. When I race in my 35 minute sprint race I have very little in the way of strategy to consider for the whole of the race. I have a plan for qualifying and a plan for starting. In both cases the plan is pretty much to go like hell. After that, I’m still trying to go like hell to make the most of every opportunity that I have to pass a competitor because I don’t have the luxury of time in a sprint race or the worry that I need to conserve my car in order to make it to the end of the race. There have been occasions when I’ve taken things a little too far in the first lap and spun leaving me at the back of the pack ruining the work I did in qualifying so I’ve worked hard at reprogramming to dial the aggression down just a bit after the start while still being prepared to pounce.
Rich has to manage risk differently when he’s endurance racing. As the team manager he also has to evaluate how the other team drivers are managing their aggression. Going like hell all the time is not a good style if you want to be a part of the team. Rich’s strengths as a racer go back to his inclination to prepare. He’s very good in traffic for example where a racer has to judge the aggression levels of the drivers in the cars around him or her. The riskiest pass to try is to outbrake a competitor into a turn. There is a lot that can go wrong when you try to squeeze two cars into the space available for one. Outbraking a competitor may be my best option in a sprint race, but it is usually a terrible strategy option for an endurance racer unless it’s the last lap of the race. Rich is also good at starts. He attributes this to his drag racing experience. I’m sure he’s right. It means that he’s learned from experience and is prepared to deal with the variations of adrenaline fueled chaos that happen on the first lap of a race. In contrast, Rich told me that he needs to work on his qualifying. The physical preparation for qualifying is a lot like other parts of racing. The car has to be as good as possible for qualifying to go well. The strategy may be like my go like hell deal, but you also need to be able to turn it on and off during a session because we are qualifying on the track at the same time as everyone else so there may be traffic meaning we have to back off and be patient for the opportunity to go like hell over and over again.
As I mentioned above, there are times when I need to be more prevention focused during a race. Since I am in a promotion focused role in development I work on being more prevention focused by sticking with a decision making process in which I think twice before acting. Obviously there are times when it pays to be more promotion focused at a race, like for qualifying, but the biggest takeaway here is that each of us, no matter what our strengths are, need to be able to step outside of ourselves and think about what the best strategy is in a given situation. This has to do with being present, and with being in the zone.
I look forward to writing about how it is possible to create this state of being in the zone and present in a future post.