Not So Fast in the Race to Innovate?

Is innovation overrated? Well, if we’re to believe researchers from Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business who have studied Formula One racing teams, the answer could very well be “yes.”

ThinkstockPhotos-184766512OK, Formula One racers wouldn’t be the first place I would look either to better understand the workings of innovation. But academic researchers at the school recently pored over data from 49 teams over a period of 30 years of Formula One racing and found that those innovating the most (say, making radical changes to their cars) weren’t usually the most successful on the course.

“We found that it wasn’t always good to be the aggressive innovator,” according to Jaideep Anand, co-author of the study and professor of strategy at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. (The study, titled Driving Performance via Exploration in Changing Environments: Evidence from Formula One Racing, is featured in the current issue of the journal Organization Science.)

In other words, he says, the “conventional wisdom that companies need to embrace change is often wrong,”

But isn’t it a bit of a stretch to equate the kind of innovation occurring on a race track to business?

Not according to Anand.

Forumula One racing, he says, is actually a very good venue to study the value of innovation in business, because it’s an innovation-intensive industry with teams of engineers, drivers and sponsors who all have to work together to succeed.

As an OSU press release issued yesterday puts it …

“The independent governing body for Formula One (FIA) imposes changes to racing teams’ environments by releasing a new set of rules each year, which is similar to the changes in the regulatory and business environment that businesses face on a regular basis.”

OK, I sincerely doubt  many business leaders are going to instruct their innovation teams to slam their foot on the brakes in light of these findings. But that said, I suppose it’s never a bad idea to revisit what you’re doing on the innovation front and see what kind of impact it’s having. Who knows, maybe a tune-up might be in order?

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