How businesses can find innovation from anywhere

That time an F1 pit crew team showed a hospital how to reduce post-surgery fatalities.


October 19, 2020

The Ferrari F1 pit crew is a case study in efficiency. In the GIF above, it takes them a mere ~3.5 seconds to swap out a race car’s tires.

And as it turns out, studying this team’s efficiency was beneficial to other fields: A children’s hospital in England integrated aspects of the pit crew’s process to help prevent post-surgery deaths.

Interdisciplinarity at its finest

In the mid-1990s, the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London conducted a 2-year review of its surgical process and realized its handover procedure was causing errors that severely compromised patient safety.

So, they videotaped their process and sent it to an F1 pit crew team to ask for advice.

One key suggestion was to improve the handover choreography among team members. For example, the anesthetist was assigned the same coordinating role as a pit crew’s “lollipop man” (the person who waves in the car).

After implementing the changes, the hospital’s error rate declined by 66%, according to Wharton professor Ethan Mollick.

This isn’t the first borrowed innovation

The OG version is Henry Ford adapting processes from the meatpacking industry to make car assembly lines. Per Harvard Business Review, more recent versions include:

  • 3M, which found a solution to deal with facial skin infections by consulting theatrical make-up artists
  • An escalator company that copied techniques from the mining industry to install escalators in shopping malls

To find these innovations, HBR suggests looking to industries that are:

  1. Distant from your own (to maximize the novelty of the solutions)
  2. More advanced (they’ve solved the hardest problems)

Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re going to go find a way to integrate this innovation into our newsletter business:

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