The business lesson we learn from Formula One

It was Rhonda MacLean, the former global chief information security officer at Bank of America, who first told me the now famous aphorism of security.

“Why do we have brakes on a car?” she asked.

“To stop?” I tentatively offered, suspecting I was walking into a trap.

“To stop?!” she exclaimed, confirming my suspicion. “If our intention were to stop, we simply wouldn’t go in the first place.”

“No,” she continued, “we have brakes on a car so we can drive fast.”

I was stunned. The heavens opened. Trumpets sounded. Suddenly everything made sense.

Security is the brakes on the car. It is also the seatbelts and mirrors and other safety equipment. However, my epiphany that day was that none of these devices is in place in order to give me caution, nor to avoid risks, nor to slow me down. Just the opposite. Security exists to allow me to drive fast, even recklessly, zigging and zagging through the racecourse with confidence that my vehicle will perform any way I need it to.

Security exists not to avoid risks, but to thrive in the midst of risks.

I tell the epiphany often. I told it just last week to officers in the ministry of defense in Oman. I told it previously to oil & gas executives in Rio, and even during a Formula One race in Italy. Around the world, this message rings loud and true.

One person responded in broken English, “You just put the medicine on the cut.”

That reaction is common because most people have viscerally negative feelings about security. An annoying layer of cost and inconvenience, they’ll say. You yourself, dear reader, have probably been guilty of talking about avoiding risks and getting that blank look from business leaders, haven’t you? The enlightened security professional and the enlightened business executive both realize that actually security is the thing that allows business to grow and to be agile and to–get this–take risks.

Those Buddhas of business therefore do a surprising thing. They purge the word security from their vocabulary. They talk once again about growing the business, out-maneuvering the competition, and racing ahead. In order to win a race, they correctly surmise, they need to put the systems and measures in place to nimbly zoom through traffic.

Every business manager should have the quiet confidence of a Formula One driver, knowing that this awesome screaming machine can do absolutely anything asked of it. Risks, then, become opportunities. Risks become assets. Risks let us thrive and win.