The One Where: We Discuss the Power of Small, Incremental Gains
A few years since on since Dave Brailsford made famous the words “the aggregation of marginal gains” we wanted to reflect on what this means, and how you can apply this everyday life.
The concept is simple – lots of small improvements each day, over time, add up to a significant increase in performance.
If I was to say to you – could you be 37 times better in one year’s time, than you are today; what would you say? No, this isn’t some magic formula or amazing new productivity hack. You can be 37 times better in one year, if you are 1% better today than you were yesterday.
This is the power of marginal gains. They accumulate. The improvements compound. Ask any investor – compounding is man’s best friend.
However, the same can be said for the other way around, marginal losses. If you are 1% worse today, then you were yesterday, and this trend continued you a year, you would be, well, struggling!
The graph paints a powerful picture, and one we think is quite inspirational. The problem that that most people make, is that they try and take large steps towards becoming 37 times better. Instead of improving marginally, they try to improve significantly. This approach is often unsustainable and would likely result in injury if you are an athlete or burn out, if you are a professional.
So, the secret to being 37 times better in a year than you are now? Be 1% better today than yesterday. 1% is small and probably unnoticeable – but its power is absolute.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
So, how do we do this?
Dave Brailsford said, “… 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” (https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/olympics/19174302). This concept can be applied everywhere.
In Dave Brailsford case, they found ways to make the bike seats comfier, the bike chain lighter and made it easier to find dust particles through painting the bike sheds white – and let’s not forget our personal favourite – teaching the athletes how to wash their hands!
All insignificant and probably unnoticeable improvements on their own but added together made a significant improvement in performance.
So, what can we learn from this? And how can we apply this to everyday life?
We can use the same approach that Dave Brailsford used. Break down the components of your day and see what you can do to improve each aspect. Start by listing out the components of your day – and ask yourself “what could I do, to improve this”. It might mean preparing your lunches earlier in the week, so you have a more nutritious lunch instead of running to get a meal deal at lunch. Or it might mean using your commute to read a book instead of playing on your phone.
Remember, we are looking to improve our performance, which could mean better sleep, increased productivity, or completing more value-add tasks. When you consider performance in this way, and break down the components in your day, the potential for finding improvements is infinite.
The aim is to improve 1% each day. We are talking about the power of marginal gains, so this is not a big bang approach, but a deliberate incremental approach each day.