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The Power of Tiny Gains

Updated: Aug 21, 2022

By 2003 the performance of the British Cycling team was so mediocre that one manufacturer refused to sell them bikes in case it harmed their reputation with other professionals.

They had never won the Tour de France and since 1908 had only won a solitary Olympic gold medal.

In 2003 that all changed. In that year Dave Brailsford was appointed performance director.

His philosophy was simple:

“The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improve it by 1 percent, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.”

Little improvements (known as marginal gains) would make a massive difference to overall performance. Brailsford didn’t just stop at better seats and improved tyres, he involved the team and they kept looking for those gains in everything they did. This included

  • Trying a wide range of massage gels to assess the best muscle recovery.

  • Hiring a surgeon to teach the sportsmen how to wash their hands to avoid a cold.

  • Selecting pillows and mattresses for optimal sleep.

  • The chef having to account for every ingredient used while cooking.

  • Having the transport floor painted white to notice any specks of dust which could hamper bike maintenance.

Over the coming years small, subtle, yet consistent improvements continued. 2004 saw 1 gold medal but at the 2008 Olympics Team GB won 8 Golds, repeating this at the 2012 games. Between 2012 and 2018 the team won the Tour de France 5 out of 6 times, having never won it previously.

By focusing on tiny gains the team compounded the results and over time these made a big difference.

If something is simple to do, it is often simpler not to do.

What simple changes can you make? What marginal gains are to be had in your workplace?

Forget about perfection; focus on progression and compound the improvement. They’re tiny things but if you clump them together, they make a big difference.

Dave Brailsford

Martyn Dawes is a Coach, Social Care Consultant, and Author of The Overwhelmed Manager: What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do

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