Jurriaan Kamer and Rini van Solingen on Extreme Acceleration: Part 2 of an interview by Bob Morris

Jurriaan Kamer is an organization designer, transformation coach, and speaker. He lives with his wife and two kids in Utrecht, The Netherlands. He is an expert in the field of organizing differently. He is obsessed with modern organizations and how you can transform an existing organization. He studied companies like Spotify, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Airbnb to discover how they work. In addition, he has been a fan and visitor of Formula 1 for years. When he was given the opportunity to look behind the scenes of Formula 1, the inspiration for his book Formula X was laid.

Jurriaan has written several popular articles such as “How to build your own Spotify model”, “Beyond Agile: Why agile has not fixed your problems” and “This company achieves 100% customer satisfaction with 0% managers”. He regularly gives presentations and workshops about his experiences and practical examples to inspire and instill change.

Rini van Solingen (prof.dr.) is a speaker, author, professor, and entrepreneur. His expertise lies in the speed and agility of people and organizations. Rini is a part-time full professor at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. He is also the CTO at Prowareness We-On, where, as a strategic consultant, he helps clients make their organizations fast and agile. Rini is the author of a number of management books, including The Power of Scrum (2011 – with Jeff Sutherland and Eelco Rustenburg); Scrum for Managers (2015 – with Rob van Lanen); the management novel, How to lead self-managing teams? (2016); and Formula X (2020 – with Jurriaan Kamer).

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Now please shift your attention to Formula X. For those who have not as yet read it, hopefully your responses to these questions will stimulate their interest and, better yet, encourage them to purchase a copy and read the book ASAP. First, when and why did you decide to write it?

Solinge & Kamer: Rini’s publisher asked him to write a management novel about Formula-1. He was already thinking about a business novel about speed in organizations. So he accepted but did not make much progress at first. Then he discovered that Jurriaan had a keynote “how to become as fast and agile as a F1 team” about the cross-over of F1 and organization design. The decision to team up was then quickly made. And the book was produced within a few months.

Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Solingen: Yes, most details of Formula-1 were new to me, but the biggest revelation to me was that F1 is not really about technology, but about: learning!! The fastest learner wins in F1, because the fastest learner gets the fastest car the quickest. Everything is set-up around learning from doing. Experimentation, data-collection, learning and transferring to action. And that again, and again, and again. From race to race, from round to round, from corner to corner. Always trying to perform at the limit because there you can find the data to learn how to push that limit.

For me that really was a revelation, especially when looking in normal business environments where people try to stay on the safe side. But how can you learn and push the limit from the safe side?? Mario Andretti said it really nicely: if you have the feeling that everything is under control, you are not driving fast enough!

Kamer: When I researched F1 teams, I saw patterns that I also saw in other high performing organizations. A clear purpose and metrics, a deliberate meeting structure focused on learning & improving, information transparency and many other things.

To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

Solingen: The biggest change was to move to the kitchen setting in the story. Originally I was thinking about a garage owner. Made more sense given the setting. But the move to kitchens (thanks to Jurriaan) is much better.

Kamer: We picked a kitchen factory because it is simple enough for people to relate to it, but it is also large enough to have similar challenges as many organizations face (silos, ineffective leadership, too many rules, etc.)

Writing a business fable poses unique challenges. Which did you find most difficult? Why?

Solingen: Writing dialogues and keeping enough curiosity with the reader to continue reading. The story must be interesting enough to finish the book, while this remains a business book. We are not Dan Brown or Stieg Larsson. Also the mystery in the book who is behind the surprises must on the one hand be not too obvious but also not too impossible. I hope we succeeded in this.

Kamer: I had done a lot of writing in the past, but never a fictional story. It was a lot of fun! The biggest challenge was to find good storylines that help convey the theory of the FASTER model in a convincing and inspiring way.

What did use of the business fable format enable you to accomplish that would probably not have otherwise been possible? Please explain.

Solingen: With this type of books (it is not my first one of this kind) you reach out to a much broader audience and you can serve them with totally different moments. Formula X is a book that you take on your holiday to the beach and read while drinking a cocktail. That is much harder to achieve with a theoretical content book. Because of that, the content level of the book is much smaller. There is much less possible because it is a story. On the other hand, we were pushed because of that to stick to the utmost important theory. Forcing ourselves to leave much out, but what remained had to be spot on.

Kamer: I agree with what Rini just said.

Most of those who read this interview will not have as yet read your book so the questions that follow are limited to business issues. In your opinion, what is the single most valuable business lesson to be learned from Formula 1 racing? Please explain.

Solingen: That learning by doing is at the core to accelerate. Not the fastest car wins, but the team that learns the fastest. And then able to transfer these learnings into actions, of course.

Kamer: To build on what Rini said: taking the time to slow down and reflect to harvest lessons learned are the only ways to get faster over time. It is paradoxical. Spend less time on being busy and executing, spend more time on improving. It is a special skill to do this continuously and deliberately.

Formula 1 teams know when to increase, maintain, or reduce speed during competition. In your opinion, how can business leaders best make that same determination?

Solingen: I don’t think F1 teams really know this. However, because they take so many small actions and steps, they can continuously validate if these steps take them in the right direction. And if not, they can course correct. So for business leaders I would say: make smaller steps faster, and validate their impact. Sometimes you are right, but sometimes you are not. Best is to find that out as early (and as small) as possible!

Kamer: Speed is relative. You only need to be slightly quicker than your competition to win.

Formula 1 teams also know when to make appropriate adjustments when encountering inclement weather. How can business organizations best make that determination?

Solingen: By not thinking the weather will stick to the plan. F1-teams are nimble because they need to be. The weather changes when it does. In terms of David Allen: F1-teams are ready-for-anything. If you and your business organization are also ready for anything, then it no longer matters if things go the way you expect. If it doesn’t you simply respond fast.

Kamer: The weather is a metaphor for the complex environment that most organizations are in. It teaches us a valuable lesson: we need more work practices that are based on sense and respond instead of plan and predict. It is nonsensical to make long-term plans and call them a success if they are perfectly executed. Instead, we need to build the skill to continuously steer based on what is happening in front of us.

What do owners and managers of Formula 1 teams share in common with the C-level executives of a Fortune 500 company?

Solingen: Hopefully they have understood that they themselves not really matter. They only take limited decisions that have real impact. Their teams and people do take these decisions, so support them the best to do their work. Give them a great environment to work in, all the information that is around, sight on the actual result, and then trust them to use their craftsmanship to win. Maybe secondly, that they have this one single definition of success: winning the championship. What is the championship of your organization?

Kamer: Their environments are similar. If the organization stands still, it will slowly cease to exist. The average lifespan of a company now on the S&P 500 is less than 15 years. Most C-level executives are aware of this, but struggle to find ways to transform their organizations to get the agility and responsiveness needed to survive.

In your opinion, what is the single greatest difference between a Formula 1 team and a Fortune 500 company’s senior management team?

Solingen: They have totally different views on efficiency and effectiveness: teams of 1,000 people working on just two cars for 20 races, is crazy in a way. Especially if you think about the circus travelling the world, planes (and boats!!) full of equipment and stuff. F1-teams do not exist to make a profit. They are there to innovate, learn and win. No F1-team boss would propose cost-cutting as a measure to create more shareholder value, or buy their own shares instead of investing in R&D…… F1 executives know they need to increase cost and invest more, in order to win.

Kamer: I have nothing to add to Rini’s response.

Einstein once insisted that “everything be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” To what extent is that admonition relevant to competition both on a race course and in a marketplace? Please explain.

Solingen: Simplicity makes things easier to change, which helps to win in business nowadays. Complexity increases weight and makes you slower. This holds for racing as well as for business. I like the quote: Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. It is said to come from Leonardo da Vinci, but proof of that is, as far as I know, still missing.

Kamer: We often have too many rules at the cost of innovation, speed and engagement. We can’t get rid of all rules, but we should get towards a place of ‘minmum viable bureaucracy’. For example: on the highway, it is quite useful to agree on a driving direction. It is an enabling constraint.

In your opinion, which of the material you provide in Formula X will be most valuable to those now preparing for a career in business or who have only recently embarked on one? Please explain.

Solingen: Well, I would say all elements from our FASTER model that is thoroughly discussed in the book but if I have to choose only one insight,  it would be the realisation that speed (according to the laws of physics) is constant! If you want to increase speed, you need acceleration. So ask yourself about anything you do: is this accelerating our speed? Or in F1-terms: does this action make the car faster??

Kamer: Make decisions faster by understanding that most of them are reversible. Then make more of them by ensuring they are “safe to try”. Don’t be paralyzed by always trying to a pefect decision. Instead consider each as an experiment, a hypothesis, that needs to be tested. Evaluate past decisions and adjust accordingly.

To first-time supervisors? Please explain.

Kamer: This goes back to the lesson I had in mind for people at the beginning of their career: assume positive intent and approach conflict curiosity. top gain a much better understanding of the given situation.

Solingen: Create teams of smart and capable professionals and give them the environment to be successful in. That is your job. Lead as a beekeeper, not as a shepherd. This was the message of one of my previous books already 😉

To C-level executives? Please explain.

Kamer: I’d say, if you want to create lasting organizational (culture) change, invest in strengthening the “participatory change muscle”: invite everyone in the organization to come up with suggestions for improvements, and create the space for continuous experimentation with new ways of working. It is the most important muscle that will help the organization survive over time.

Solingen: Remember that agility is not a goal in itself and that organizing your organization around customer-impact, speed and short learning cycles is much more effective. And that if you implement only half of the concepts from F1 (and in our book), you already have what you need to win. After all, speed is relative. You do not need be as fast as possible, just a little faster than your competitor.

Your comment reminds me of the story about two men who were camping out in a national park. When a grizzly bear appeared, they began to run away. One then said, “This is really stupid! No one can outrun a grizzly.” The other replied, “I don’t have to outrun the bear. All I have to do is outrun you.”

To the owner/CEOs of small-to-midsize companies? Please explain.

Solingen: Organize for speed to your customer. Perhaps the idea of pit-stop teams is actually feasible for your business. And if you have a garage: please consider the pit-stop concept when I come to visit you to change my tires!! 😉

Kamer: Be explicit about roles people assigned and clarify their decision rights. And then distribute authority to the people who are closest to the customer. They hear every day what is needed. If they need to go through the management hierarchy to get a decision, they’re too slow.

Which question had you hoped to be asked during this interview – but weren’t – and what is your response to it?

Solingen: “What do you hope the readers of Formula X will do?”

My answer would be: to invite me to give a lecture or keynote presentation at a conference or business event, as that is what I enjoy most!

Kamer: Ha! Good one Rini.

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To check out Part 1, please click here.

Jurriaan and Rini cordially invite you to check out the resources at these websites:

Formula X  link

Jurriaan’s website link

Rini’s website link.

Brave New Work link



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