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The Progress Principle
Formula 1 Drive to Survive

For the most part, I avoid watching TV. Sitting down to watch a show often gives me anxiety, likely because I know there are numerous better things to do with my time. Having said that, one show I’ve been able to watch guilt-free is Netflix’s ‘Formula 1: Drive to Survive’. It’s an inspiring series full of lessons on personal and professional growth, documenting how F1 drivers (of which there are only 20 globally) pursue excellence in the face of immense pressure.

The Pursuit of Excellence Is All About Incremental Improvement

Contrary to popular culture, that mindset of wanting it all now and just going for it, the go big or go home attitude, is not how you achieve excellence in your professional field. Yet it’s the typical approach for many early-stage entrepreneurs…

Startup entrepreneur believes they need to make the biggest splash possible as quickly as possible. Rapid growth at all costs, let’s call it. They have an unrealistic view of how fast traction will come for their venture, which often has a devastating impact on their personal morale, investor sentiment, employee retention, and a host of other negative consequences.

It speaks to Bill Gates’ point,

“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”

This is why releasing an MVP (minimum viable product) is a practical pathway to growth. It allows for real-world ‘testing’ of ideas without breaking the bank by potentially making fatal assumptions for a ‘perfect’ version. An MVP paves the way for the continual pursuit of incremental growth: Release, observe market response, then recalibrate. Release a better version; recalibrate again, and so forth.

The Progress Principle Feeds Motivation

There is a term for the MVP strategy, called the ‘progress principle’ — a powerful approach to big goals that magnifies the little wins along the journey and thus continually feeds the psyche with consistent motivation to battle on.

Read more on the progress principle here from Harvard Business Review.

The progress principle is why I love watching Formula 1: Drive to Survive…

F1 may just be the most competitive sport on the planet. These Formula 1 teams have two drivers and staff of roughly a thousand people studying the most minute aspect of the race cars, such as the wing tip on the bumper, to help make the car slightly more aerodynamic. And sometimes, if they uncover a possible tweak (be it with the car or even the driver’s mindset and body), they manage to get an extra couple tenths of a second off their qualifying times for the next race… possibly the difference between an additional $10 million in sponsorship money.

F1 teams all have the long-term goal of being the best racing team in the world, but they abide by the progress principle. A team that finished 12th out of the 20 F1 teams one season will strive to improve their car and driver so they can crack the Top 10 the following year… incremental improvements.

F1 teams realize there is much to be done if you want to go from 10th to 1st, and they set several incremental improvement goals over many years to try and reach that pinnacle. It helps them accurately track whether they’re making progress over several years while keeping the team’s morale up by highlighting the smaller wins.

How Else Will You Measure Progress?

Think about the most significant transformations you’ve made in life. Maybe you lost 50 pounds. That didn’t happen overnight. You had to change your diet completely, abstain from sugary foods, and likely step on the scale every few days to ensure you were making those incremental improvements/progress. Eventually, perhaps half a year later, you were 50 pounds lighter. Mission accomplished.

Incremental improvement tracking matters because it allows you to appreciate the little wins over a long journey. It reminds you that although you’re not at the end goal, you’re making the right moves and getting closer…

This feeds the human psyche in the best possible way.

Stay hungry,