How a Pinewood Derby Car Propelled Me Ahead of the Pack

By February 6, 2009


I have two young sons in cub scouts and one of the highlights of the year is the pinewood derby race.  At the beginning of the year each scout in the pack is handed a small pine block to shape into a racecar. Dads and sons dream that their car will be the fastest to coast down the elevated track.

Our first derby year we had no idea what we were doing. We followed the lead of the other dads and crafted nice looking cars but they weren’t very fast.  It was a disappointing day for all of us.

The following year we talked about how to make the car faster. A realization set in: you can’t move ahead of the pack by being a part of the pack. If everyone is doing the same thing, you can expect everyone to have similar results.

Thinking strategically we noticed that everyone was concentrating on what they can do to the block.  Car shape and design were the primary concerns with some attention paid to the placement of the metal weights (cars must all be 5 ounces or less).

We started to focus on what happens outside of the block. We experimented with various wheelbase lengths, different balance points on the car and ways to reduce friction on the wheels and axles.  It worked. Each son won their den race, but not the pack as a whole. The next year we won the den races and my oldest son pulled off the ultimate victory, grand champion of the entire pack!

In other words, when we quit following the masses, it freed us to think of new ways to increase performance. When we ventured outside of our own comfort zone we became leaders of the pack.

I see the same pack mentality in the business world. Marketers stay with the tried and true, doing what the others do, hoping to gain an edge but ending up with the same results as the rest of the pack.  Isn’t time for you to win the race?

Leave the pack mentality behind and stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone. Free yourself to look for new opportunities that are hidden from conventional thinking. Use your intuition and imagination to see what can happen outside the block.

Experiment with social media by participating in social networks and listening to your customers. Conduct formal or informal user experience testing on your web site to find new opportunities and maximize your investment.  Develop new strategies for search marketing. Why not evaluate your email campaigns and look for potential that might exist in a down economy?

It may not be easy.  It may actually be uncomfortable. But then again, you know that nothing worthwhile is ever easy. I can tell you that the rewards sure are gratifying.  So, tell me what you think. What ways can you think of to pull ahead of the pack and cross the finish line in first place?

Categories : marketing

Vickie February 6, 2009

Great post, Scott! Keep thinking creatively and keep reminding us to do that too.

sschablow February 7, 2009

Vickie, Thanks for the props and taking the time to comment.

John Giddens (Troop 367 Commissioner) February 8, 2009

If you have not seen “Down and Derby” you need to. It is a great Cub Scout story of dads making pinewood derby cars!!!

sschablow February 9, 2009

John, I have seen the movie and it is hilarious. Unfortunately I have become too much like one of the characters in the movie. 😉

Kristen February 11, 2009

I did Pinewood Derby with the Indian Guides at the YMCA in Cobb County, Ga. as a kid. My dad did a great job at creating a fast car. I insisted on putting a doll head in the driver’s seat and rainbow stickers and glitter on the car….I know my dad was so embarrassed, but guess who won? Yep, the girly car with the doll head and glitter beat all the boys. Victory was sweet.

sschablow March 13, 2009

Kristen, That’s a great story. Creativity in action. Glad you shared it. Stop buy again. I will be posting more frequently.

Leave a comment