How a hospital in Wales used Formula 1 expertise to improve neonatal resusciation is an example on how businesses learn from sports.
By MOYSES MOYSEOS, PhD student and incubator manager
I have been following sports all of my life. I grew up in a small island in the Mediterranean, not so sport oriented in terms of culture, but I had the chance and the drive since the early days to do a wide spectrum of sport activities. Then studies came, and professional obligations started taking over a significant amount of my personal time, just like for the most of us. Hence, less free time and energy to spend in other activities.
Today, I am professional in innovation and entrepreneurship, working as an incubator manager, a place where all the magic happens, as I like to say, all the way from idea level to investment readiness and access to market. While keeping myself busy on how business can accelerate and scale up, I joined the School of Business & Management at UCLan Cyprus as an associate lecturer. Here I met Dr. Christos Anagnostopoulos, a renowned scholar on the management of sport who finds himself busy between UClan in Cyprus and HiMolde in Norway .
By the late 1990’s and early 2000’s the Internet and cheap access to technology gave birth to a new global startup ecosystem, equipped with the panoply to tackle and utilize technological advancements and become a catalyst of innovation in product development, directly and indirectly related to sports (such as new advanced materials, audiovisuals, data processing and analytics). Efforts at social engineering, innovation and entrepreneurship have been injected into this area, including sport organizations that are trying to embody the essence of it in their DNA: Arsenal Innovation Lab, Barcelona Innovation Hub, McLaren Technology Center and so many others. They try to accelerate growth and expand sports as a product and an experience.
Through the interaction with Christos, I felt like we reached the right momentum when Christos put a decisive and life-changing question on the table: “Can we look at sport and apply principles from therein into any other type of business and generate value?”
The response by me was loud and clear: «Yes, we can, but don’t ask me how. Yet.» I was too busy with other things, but gradually I realized that to take it seriously I had to make a drastic decision. To research the question properly, and to embark on a PhD-project with Christos as my supervisor, and take a deep dive into the so called ‘’scholarly gap’’ between business and sports to see if cross-fertilization takes place and can be increased. What is the Citius – Altius – Fortius of business? What are the principles and core processes that we can draw from sports to shed light into the business world?
Replacing wheels to a race car – bringing a newborn to life
To any fan of Formula 1, motorsport’s fixation with business and innovation will come as no surprise. Have you ever wondered how one can go from racing pit-stops to newborn resuscitation? In other words, how does Formula 1 principles provide knowledge that can be transferred and used in order to bring a new-born to life, without errors and implications during the process. A Formula 1 pit crew will remove and replace all four wheels of a race car in 6 seconds. This high precision process has been translated into a neonatal resuscitation unit, a life and death reality. These similar processes are time-critical and hugely demanding, any error is a fatal error, in the hospital it will cost a human life, and in Formula 1, hundreds of thousands of Euros, or a fatal accident.
The University Hospital of Wales (UHW) approached Williams F1 in order to learn from each other. Williams’ personnel entered a series of investigation and collaboration with UHW team, and the UHW also visited Williams’ UK operation HQ to observe the pit crew in action and learn from their operations of pit lane success. After a thorough investigation of the critical chain of event in real life emergencies, the resuscitation trolley was redesigned in order to “streamline efficiency and instant access to vital life support systems. A precise floor plan was also created to optimize space for neonatal resuscitation teams in the cramped conditions of the delivery theatre. Every process and procedure was scrutinized to improve newborns’ chances of survival”.
The ‘’Gladiator’’ of Rome
Franscesco Totti, the “King of Rome”, a living legend for Italian club AS Roma, and a respectable football player, once denied a very appealing Real Madrid offer for transfer.
Explaining his denial, he said: “They taught us at school that family is the most important thing. Roma is my family. Have you ever heard of someone who left his poor parents to live with rich strangers?”
If we take that into the business corporate environment and translate it into intrapreneurship, what are the lessons learned from a young academy football player to grow and deliver value through an athletic club, generate value, become an icon and stay loyal till the end? How could we translate this process and compare it to an intern joining a corporate environment to become a family, grow, generate value and become a long-term asset and a role model?
Is it fair to compare business to sports and vice versa? First of all, it’s not unusual for sporting metaphors to be used as a tool for employees to visualize and make their way up through professional success. Sport’s performance metaphors on the individual level could become a pivot to success, when structured and applied systemically. There is a plethora of interpersonal skills that elite level athletes develop over constant coaching and mentoring that sustains and finetunes their achievement driven mindset, hence their performance and delivery. If at some point we start drawing parallels on activities and skills aligned between sports and business, such as communication, leadership, ambition and respect, one can see that rooting for sport excellence is not very much dissimilar to aiming for professional success starting from the individual level on a bottom up approach to the whole organization.
So far, there have been some studies exploring a theoretical background on lessons learned from sports, but what we are trying to do is to look at real world scenarios and case studies and extract every element that is following a common pattern and measure the impact. Of course, it would be naïve to consider that in a competitive business environment everything is butterflies and rainbows. There is always the dark side of cold figures and numbers and personal agendas. Hence, our ultimate goal is to translate our research into an impactful and tailormade product that will generate value. It’s what I like to call “a universal framework of sport principles applied in business”. Something that builds on the excellent – almost 20-years old – study by the former Harvard University professor Nancy Katz, a social psychologist who focused on high performance work teams. Professor Katz (as in her personal website), addressed questions like: What can a leader do to enhance the odds that his/her team will succeed? What key conditions must a leader put in place before, during and after the team’s work? When a team runs astray, what interventions are most likely to put the team back on track?
Our plan is to go to business with a ‘sporting agenda’ and test how much of it that can be applied. In essence, we are wondering: What do sport and business cases have in common? What type of organisational structure can (best) facilitate the employment of sporting values into organisational processes? What is the philosophy that drives and governs these values in sports?
Stay tuned… We’ll be coming back for more.
Moyses Moyseos graduated with a degree in Production and Management Engineering at Democritus University of Thrace Polytechnic School and a MSc in Engineering with Innovation and Entrepreneurship from the University College London. He’s currently the operations manager of Gravity Ventures Incubator in Cyprus and he loves being involved in the process of taking the next concept idea into the market. He’s also an associate lecturer at the School of Business and Management at UCLan Cyprus with a focus on Innovation & Entrepreneurship modules. Since last January, he’s a part time PhD candidate at the School of Business & Enterprise, UCLan Preston.