Small changes really do make a difference

22 Nov
November 22, 2012

The London 2012 Olympic Games was widely recognised as being one of the best games ever staged.  These games may now be a distant recollection but the legacy of what was achieved by the GB cycling team will last a lifetime and is a lesson to all of us connected with business.

Although my old sport (rowing) also dominated the Team GB medal tables, it’s to cycling that I’d like to turn to demonstrate just what can be achieved when the right level of focus, determination and professionalism is applied.

Cycling is a strange sport.  It combines the raw power of the athlete with an application of science in the development of the bike, clothing and fitness regimes.  But the approach that Team GB took to winning medals will, I am sure, become the thing of legends.

In 2012, out of ten possible gold medals for track cycling, Team GB won seven of them – oh, and they also collected one silver and a bronze.  The team were so dominant that the French called into question how they managed it, only to be told in a typically understated way that Team GB had “rounder wheels”.  In a great article from the BBC Dave Brailsford – British Cycling’s performance director finally gave the game away by owning up to the fact that the success was the result of a “collection of marginal gains”.


Dave’s approach to achieving marginal gains was wonderfully simple.  Dave said, “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.”

Dave’s exploits are detailed in a story that first appeared in the Daily Mail Dave’s team took everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – and looked at how it could be improved.  Obviously the bike was a prime contender for attention but Dave’s team also looked at diet, clothing, shoes, psychology and sleep plus many other areas of performance.  Lasers were used as were wind tunnels and as Dave predicted, the increase in performance when all these items were recombined was indeed significant.

Business context

This wonderful story got me thinking about how we try to improve business performance.  Do you actually tear your business apart piece by tiny piece and examine it for every conceivable improvement or do you just search for the latest fad or “silver bullet” in the hope that this will give you some sort of step-change or leap forward?

Improving a business is a tough, long and detailed journey – much like the one Dave took.  It is not and never has been (or will be) a quick fix.


Improving a business is never easy.  There will always be some low-hanging fruit that’ll supply some swift wins but the deeper, lasting change will only be achieved if every part of your business is examined in minute detail.

Call to action

Next time you’re looking for an improvement in your business try looking at everything – not just the obvious  – and look at it all in minute detail.


Tags: , , , , ,
0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *