Marginal gains – all add up

Posted: January 15, 2014 in General, Musings

Recently I’ve been trying to identify what I can do to be a bit better at, well, life really. It sounds a bit dramatic doesn’t it? I’ve made some changes already in the past few years and I kind of like how they have worked out for me, so I’m still on the look out for any more I can find.

I’ve been marginally interested in the rise of Team Sky as a cycling team. I’m not a cyclist, but in the UK you can’t help but notice Team Sky due to their success and that they are British.  Being part of one of the UK’s largest media companies also helps with the promotion a tad too. For years Britain was never quite at the table of world-class cycling but in the past decade or so that’s changed. Suddenly we would appear to be the team to beat, or in most cases not beat. Lets see the stats:

Athens 2004 – 4 medals, 2 gold

Beijing 2008 – 14 medals, 8 golds

2011 World Championship – Mark Cavendish first British road racer since 1965 to win

2012 Tour de France – Bradley Wiggins first British winner

London 2012 – 12 medals, 8 golds

2013 Tour de France – Chris Froome 2nd ever British winner

These things don’t happen by accident and the person behind Team Sky is none other than the person who was in charge of the Olympic team, take a bow Sir Dave Brailsford.

His strategy, or at least what he’s making public, is about the ‘aggregation of marginal gains’. In short he looks at the detail and identifies where he can make small improvements, say 1%. He then carries the same strategy over as many areas as possible and these build up into a significant overall gain. One example I heard was he wanted Team Sky to sleep better, so he arranged for them to take the same mattresses with them when they moved around the Tour so the riders would have a more comfortable sleep at night. That way they would be less tired the following day. Just one small thing, but linked in with a bunch of others they add up. If you can improve 1% over 10 different areas, you’re looking at a 10% overall improvement.

Most people when looking at improving things in their life come up with really big ideas – I’m going to drop 3 stones, I’m going to find a new job, I’m going to buy a house, I’m going to do all of those etc. My amateur psychology outlook thinks these must be destined for failure in most cases simply because they are so daunting. Whereas if they focussed instead on losing two pounds, or focussed on updating their CV or decided to save a small amount each month – these just seem more doable and after the first couple of pounds are gone then decide to lose two more, the CV is ready well try sending out a few, got some money in the bank – keep saving and so on.

For me I need to decide what areas I can improve by one percent in. Once I’ve got those identified I can look at what I’m doing. Straight away it seems a less daunting task to improve my diet by 1% than to turn it upside down.

Find enough in the way of 1%’s and I’ll be able to total up to some significant changes. Wiggins here found enough to win Olympic Gold and the Tour de France! While its safe to say these pinnacles of performance may just (slightly!) be beyond what I can manage, it certainly makes me wonder about just how much I can achieve.


What 1%s would you start with?

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