Performance enhancement secret – making marginal gains

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It’s been an extraordinary summer for Great British sport (if not the weather). During the latter half of July I was glued to Bradley Wiggins’ performance in the Tour de France. And then, just across the river from the home of ‘zero degrees’, the Olympics. Wow.

London 2012 is gearing up again today for more feats of athletic prowess from another group of extraordinary athletes. The Paralympics’ opening ceremony is on tonight and another fortnight of exceptional performances will have me riveted again.

I’ve been reflecting in the last two weeks since the last lot went home, about Dave Brailsford the manager of Team GB’s phenomenal cycling team (7 gold from 10 events) and the Sky team that brought Bradley Wiggins GB’s first ever Tour de France win. When asked about the extraordinary performance of the Olympic team, on BBC breakfast TV he explained his philosophy of marginal gains:

“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 improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.  There’s fitness and conditioning, of course, but there are other things that might seem on the periphery, like sleeping in the right position, having the same pillow when you are away and training in different places.  Do you really know how to clean your hands? Without leaving the bits between your fingers? If you do things like that properly, you will get ill a little bit less. They’re tiny things but if you clump them together it makes a big difference.”

Its not a new concept, improving things by 1%, but what struck me was the tangential things, the peripheral things that accumulate and help transform the potential of marginal gains into the most extraordinary performance. These lessons can cross disciplines – we don’t have to be elite sports-people to apply such learning in our everyday lives, especially our work.

So rather than only focussing on improving the direct and obvious, like tweaking the stuff we do everyday at work, ask yourself this: what are the tangential and peripheral marginal gains that could help me transform my performance?  What little things might I be able to do that will help me improve by 1%?

Think about all the little things that go into your work, including the stuff that goes on outside of your work – like sleep, like exercise, like having creative outlets, like having healthy relationships, like food. What can you tweak, just a little, that will make you just a tiny bit better. It’s not just your personal performance to which you can apply this philosophy either: what tiny tweaks can you make to your organisation or business? Are there peripheral things, as well as direct things, that will enhance your organisation’s performance?

Now imagine the cumulative change in a month, or six months!

Photo credit: Chris Grieve.

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