The Aggregate of Marginal Change

The Aggregate of Marginal Change

Great Britain’s cycling team, Team Sky, was facing the 2010 season with an impressive (losing) record: no British cyclist had ever won the Tour de France.  That year, however, something was going to change.

In 2010, they hired Dave Brailsford as the new General Manager and Performance Director.  Brailsford took his job seriously, and declared that if the team followed his plan, they would win the Tour de France within five years.  He began a training regime that would have baffled most outsiders.  It began by optimizing the obvious:  the weight of the bicycle tires, the type of seat the riders used, the nutrition plan of the riders, their training practices.  After a thorough overhaul of the bike, he turned his attention to some less obvious details.  The new General Manager changed the way the cyclists washed their hands – helping them to become less prone to infections.  A careful study of sleep led them to change the pillows the riders used, and they brought them with the team to hotels before races.  They researched the most effective type of massage gel for the riders.

Brailsford prediction came through.  Team Sky did win the Tour de France.  Just not in five years.  They won the Tour only three years after Brailsford’s implementation of what he called ‘The Aggregation of Marginal Gains’.   Brailsford understood that by making small, incremental changes to the team’s program, it would begin a domino effect of changes that would lead to big results.  By executing a 1% margin of improvement in every area of Team Sky’s process, they were able to leverage themselves into a position to win, and win big.  The dramatic turnaround of the British cycling team has led to what analysts have dubbed one of the most successful winning streaks in cycling history.  Their success has lasted over 10 years and carried over into the Olympic arena as well.

This same aggregation of marginal gains can bring success to areas of your life and business as well.  It is easy to convince yourself that improvements or change has to happen in big, noticeable ways.

If I can land just one large contract, then things will change. 

I need to implement a massive computer program that will revolutionize the way my company runs.  

With those goals hanging out there, it is easy to be overwhelmed, which can lead to paralysis.  Or, since the change is so big, it is easy to dismiss it as unobtainable.  By approaching the problem using marginal gains, though, the steps become easier.  How can you make a 1% marginal change?

Contact one new potential client a week.

Spend 10 minutes every morning prioritizing your tasks.

At first, the results may not be noticeable.  (Ever try to lose weight? No one notices those first few pounds.) Eventually, however, those little changes start to add up in a big way.  Suddenly, you’ve landed several new clients.  Your to-do list is actually getting done.  Your work load is manageable.

Think of it this way.  If a rocket launched, and the course was set incorrectly by 1%, it would not be noticeable in a visible way by those watching the launch.  As the rocket moved into space, however, the error would become obvious as they missed their target by thousands of miles.  That 1% change is overwhelmingly important.

Most likely, you won’t be entering the Tour de France, and probably will not be launching a rocket into outer space.  But you can make small, marginal changes to your business that will pay off over time.  Where are the areas in your business that you can improve by 1% this week?


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