The Power of Marginal Gains: How Small Improvements Can Lead to Big Results

Uncategorized Jan 20, 2024

Ever feel stuck? Like you're bumping your head against a glass ceiling every day?

Or maybe it's not glass at all. Maybe you can see it and feel it. And you're sure it's made of solid concrete, and there ain't no gettin' through it.

I get it. I have a calloused forehead too, from all the head-pounding I've done over the years, trying to engineer breakthroughs for myself and my clients.

I have some good news for you...

Your glass ceiling, concrete wall, or whatever you call the obstacle that has you frustrated and on the verge of throwing in the's very, very easy to penetrate, once you absorb and implement what I'm about to share with you.

Let me tell you about Dave Brailsford.

No British cyclist had previously won the Tour de France.

As the newly appointed General Manager and Performance Director of Team Sky, the professional cycling team of Great Britain, Brailsford was on a mission to change all that.

His strategy was straightforward. Brailsford embraced a philosophy he called "aggregation of marginal gains." He described this as seeking a 1 percent improvement in every aspect of what you do. He believed that enhancing every facet of cycling by just 1 percent could lead to significant overall progress.

The team began by focusing on improvements in obvious areas: the cyclists' diet, their weekly training schedules, the comfort of the bike seat, and the tires' weight.

However, Brailsford and his team went beyond the obvious. They aimed for 1 percent enhancements in minor, often ignored aspects: selecting the pillow that provided the best sleep and bringing it to hotels, identifying the most effective massage gel, and instructing cyclists on the most efficient hand-washing techniques to prevent infections. They relentlessly pursued these 1 percent improvements in all areas.

Personally, I'd change the title of this concept to "The compounding of marginal gains." Because there truly is a compounding effect here.

Brailsford certainly did work in a vacuum. There were many before him who saw the power of incremental improvements over time.

There's also the Continuous Improvement Cycle, originally created by Walter A. Shewhart and Dr. William Edwards Deming.

Shewhart initially developed the concept as the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle. 

Deming later adapted then modified it into the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle and popularized it, particularly in the context of quality control and continuous improvement in manufacturing and business processes.

Toyota then iterated on it even further and now call it the Plan-Do-Check-Adjust (PDCA) cycle, which they say is at the heart of the Toyota Way.

From these early pioneers came the concepts that brought us Lean, which is a productivity and "Flow of Work" accelerator that was all the rage in the 1990s, and was instrumental in helping Toyota beat the hubcaps off the big three automakers in the US at the time.

It was later borrowed from big companies by the scrappy entrepreneurs (ever heard of the book, "The Lean Startup?") and turned into something that better fits small businesses.

 As a small business owner, finding ways to improve your business by even just 1% can have a significant impact over time through the power of marginal gains.

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