When Sir David Brailsford became head of British Cycling in 2002, the team had almost no record of success: British cycling had only won a single gold medal in its 76-year history. Only one. Then Sir David took hold of the reigns.
Forward six years at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, his squad won seven out of 10 gold medals available in track cycling, and they matched the achievement at the London Olympics four years later. Sir David now leads Britain’s first-ever professional cycling team, which has won three of the last four Tour de France events.
Sir Dave, a former professional cycler who holds an MBA, applied a theory of marginal gains to cycling — he gambled that if the team broke down everything they could think of that goes into competing on a bike, and then improved each element by 1%, they would achieve a significant aggregated increase in performance.
As an MBA, Brailsford embraced the Japanese process of constant improvement technique (Kaizen). His vision was large, yet his daily focus was small, not big, adopting a philosophy of continuous improvement through the aggregation of marginal gains. His mantra “Forget about perfection; focus on progression, and compound the improvements”.
By experimenting in a wind tunnel, he searched for small improvements to aerodynamics. By analysing the mechanic’s area in the team truck, he discovered that dust was accumulating on the floor, undermining bike maintenance. So he painted the floor white, in order to spot any impurities. Quoting him – “We were precise about food preparation. We brought our own mattresses and pillows so our athletes could sleep in the same posture every night. We searched for small improvements everywhere and found countless opportunities. Taken together, we felt they gave us a competitive advantage.”
Sir David and his team had three pillars to this one-percenters approach, called “the podium principles.”
The first one was strategy. The second was human performance, not around cycling, but more about behavioural psychology and how to create an environment for optimum performance. The third principle was continuous improvement.
It has been often said that “the devil is in the details.” This is especially the case with leading a business from the front. The most successful leaders understand the latent leverage found in making very small, consistent improvements over time.
Progressive people look well into the future, and in the process, they have full clarity on the key focal areas that deliver exponential returns. They have a blueprint that takes care of the major drivers, and just like the British Cycling Team, remain committed to lifting standards across the board. Surely but slowly, they tighten and streamline on a daily basis.
As an example, let us assume you identify a dozen areas in your business that you can easily improve over the next 52 weeks. In my work with all my clients, I call this the 12/52 Method. The approach here is to improve each one of these key areas by a minimum of 1% per week. We track and repeat these standards for a year across weekly units that are directly related to profit improvements.. The result? Profit increases of at least 67% per year. Almost all of the time, increases surpass this level.
Small improvements in the way you invest your time have a profound effect on your life.
Nowhere is the “1 Percenters Theory” more relevant or more important. Always ask yourself, ‘how can I best invest my increments of time?’ or “what is the best use of my time right now?”. The adjustments do not have to be major as sometimes we have so much to do and take care of that it becomes difficult to cut large sections of time out.
A great way to gain leverage is to save time in small chunks. Fifteen minutes here better invested, delegating small repeatable tasks, or even better eliminating them altogether can make a massive difference down the track.
The key is to continuously refine, ever raising your standards. Quietly. Consistently. Sooner or later you will arrive and surpass what you ever thought possible, and then some.
Success in business and life is not loud. It is not quick. It is knowing what you wish to bring into reality in combination with a gentle expansion towards it across small increments of time and space.
One per cent here. One per cent there, consistently.