Why we built a ‘Creative Studio’ around Formula One?

Formula One has given us it’s share of learnings as a business and as a team. And there’s so much to get inspired by.

“It’s a bright sunday morning to everyone watching this at home. We are at the beginning of yet another promising year in Formula One. We’ve arrived at Albert Park to kick off what’s looking like the most competitive seasons this sport has ever seen. With Mercedes & Ferrari fighting for top positions once again, will Hamilton continue his winning streak as World Champion or will he be overtaken by what everyone’s calling ‘young blood’. All cars have taken their positions on the grid and off we go in three, two, one. It’s Lights Out here at the Melbourne Grand Prix”

Those commentaries have quite literally left us with goosebumps. Most of us were inspired by the sport for several reasons. Through this read, I’d try my level best to ensure I get you to watch your first F1 race. If you aren’t an F1 fanatic that is. So sit back and strap yourselves as we pace this up.

When we chose to be a boutique or a specialist studio, we knew things couldn’t be lukewarm by our side. Right from our processes, to our communication, to our work, it all had to be visibly specialised. And passionate. And our name had to have a story. A story that we’ve lived sub-consciously for a long time. Most of us were awestruck by this most technologically advanced sport in the world. We had our drivers & teams picked and the rivalry used to heat up on race day, as in any other sport. It had been a couple of months that we were looking for a new name and an identity for our new course of direction. Tonnes of names that just didn’t strike a chord. And one fine day, out of nowhere came up the suggestion of ‘Lights Out’. Even though it was dismissed by many as a negative name, it did stir some conversations. I somewhere knew that we’d stumbled upon a story. A story that could have chapters, characters, a soul and it’s own vibe. A month later, we froze on this audacious name. It was so pushed into a corner for a creative studio, but that exactly was the challenge for us. Draw inspiration from the sport enough to create an identity & process. And thus, Lights Out was born. Today when someone new walks into our office, be it a prospective team member or a customer, it surely stirs some interesting discussions.

Formula One has given us it’s share of learnings as a business and as a team.

TEAMWORK has been the most important one. When you design a car that has to compete with 19 other cars, for that top spot, running at almost 300 kmph, on a track that’s just 15 meters wide, for a span of 90 minutes at a stretch, you need some top notch team work. It’s not really a sport where the driver can be the centre of attention or even control the outcome. Right from the engineers who design the car, every year, to the pit crew who’s trained to change 4 wheels in just 2.5 seconds, one mistake and it could have drastic implications on the race result.

If only one day we could aspire to emulate the kind of team work like any Formula One team does, all through the year, whether they win or lose, with the same enthusiasm & spirit, I think we would’ve far outperformed ourselves.

If you didn’t know this as a fact, it probably will throw you off guard. Formula One cars are probably the most connected cars in the world. A modern-day F1 car runs on high-tech sensors and the data they collect as much as it combusts high-tech fuel. To be competitive, F1 teams process a lot of data. An F1 car will sport hundreds of sensors logging thousands of channels of DATA, measuring all kinds of things around the car and power unit – from forces and displacements, temperatures and pressures to control parameters for power unit and gearbox as well as driver inputs. The team will, for example, use computational raw data analysis to try and spot patterns that indicate trends or failures of car components.

(Pro Read: In 2017, however, the teams started using a system of two high-tech wireless technologies – 5 GHz 802.11ac and Multi-gigabit 802.11ad Wi-Fi technology, which operates in the millimetre wave 60 GHz band. The handover between the two 802.11 modes is managed automatically – so while the car is travelling through the pit lane, it starts to transmit the data wirelessly.

Once it is within four metres of the garage, it switches to a fast uplink, transmitting the data from the car to the garage at download speeds of up to 1.9 Gbits per second. In other words, transmitting one Gigabyte of data would take less than five seconds.

It is only in the future, similar technologies will come to your smartphone, allowing for much faster download and upload speeds and a more reliable connection, or used in connected cars to enable them to communicate with the outside world)

Jaw dropped aren’t you? Likewise at Lights Out, what we try and emulate is data driven decision making. We have robust internal processes to help us analyse basics like LTV for our customers to more complicated metrics like happiness & satisfaction indices for our team. It’s only data that helps you evolve more scientifically and less intuitively. Without a doubt, having a technology team in-house helps with visualisation and intelligent analysis via proprietary tools.

Given that our DNA at Lights Out has been around design & experience, this parallel from the sport came naturally. Because even in Formula One, DESIGN IS KING. The aerodynamics on the wings, the material used in development and how it’s wired to suit the personal contours and physiques of drivers, design has a massive role to play in this sport. The R&D around car design is uncompromisable.

And that’s exactly what embodies how we’re building our outlook. In fact, there have been several instances where we’ve let go off projects because customers didn’t understand the essence of design. If we’re looking to build a unique proposition, our portfolio cannot have even one mediocre project that we’re not proud of. Quite obviously it’s not a philosophy that you start with. But experience has taught us enough patience to work on projects that we’re truly passionate about. And passion has its roots from the level of intuitiveness or experience our customers wish to build in their products or brands.

While there’s more technical or rather technological learning from the sport, there are several softer angels too.

Each season lasts between March to December. Across such long hauls of race weekends (every alternate week), the teams manage to travel to 20 different countries, along with their whole cavalry, every single time. Whether they win or lose a race, the spirits are always high. After every race or practice, whether you score points or don’t, there’s something called ‘DEBRIEF MEETINGS’ that happen along with the whole team. To analyse what went right and what didn’t. Parties and vacations only follow after the whole team has analysed their performance.

At Lights Out, we use this format or rather spirit to deconstruct our work, on a regular basis. It helps us stay on track, perhaps pivot sooner and move forward.

Not just debrief meetings, one would assume that after the season ends in Abu Dhabi in December, while the parties and year end celebrations follow, it’s vacation time for the team. In fact it’s the absolute opposite of a vacation. If you’ve performed well across the year, you would want to maintain top spot even next year. If you haven’t, you would want to fight your way up. Every year is a fresh start, there are no points that are carried forward into the next year. It’s a fresh slate. And that’s exactly why everyone in the team right from the design team to the driver, get into R&D mode for the upcoming year. There are NO CHRISTMAS BREAKS for anyone in Formula One. Every day of the winter break counts, to come back stronger, higher spirited next year for the first race at Melbourne.

While the intent isn’t to say that we don’t take breaks, because we do, it’s to say that there’s utmost focus all year round, whether you’ve won new customers or delivered a state of the art innovation. There’s enough to learn from every milestone but what matters is how you envelope the learnings to your team & culture.

While there are a tonne of more that I could go on about, I’ll end this with one last philosophy that keeps our head in the game.

Not one Formula One team has won a championship in their first year. It isn’t a sport which gives you instant gratification as a team. There are several smaller wins, but the goal is far from short term. It’s a LONG DRIVE. Takes several years to master the perfect car, with the perfect driver, almost no mistakes on track and the most advanced design. 

Likewise, in businesses, as millennial as our minds are, we constantly keep reminding ourselves of the time horizon it takes to build something truly unique & great. It isn’t about one great project or one great year. It’s a longer road than you can imagine.

Tracks change every week, the team evolves, you fall down and pick yourself back again, there’s drama, there’s victory, there’s celebration, there’s pace but there’s only one thing that gets you through the highs and the lows – PASSION. Every single day, for every single project, for every single team member, when the lights go out, the race begins.

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