2013 – make big differences through marginal gains

As the New Year begins we hope that you enjoy and recognise your successes and personal progress over the last year (which not enough of us take the time to do).  We also hope that you join us in helping yourselves and organisations to make marginal gains to bring big differences.

Paul Young and I are inspired from some of the lessons from sporting excellence in 2012. Dave Brailsford and the Cycling team, including Sir Bradley Wiggins, worked (in a similar way to England’s 2003 world cup winning rugby team) on finding a host of 1% gains to provide enough of a marginal differentiation to overcome the advantage those drug cheats had. Looking at one per centdeveloping the individuals mental skills and how they manage their emotions under intense pressure, working on key weaker areas, as well as utilising the very best back up resources to include improving people’s rest and environment, were all part of these incremental changes. The sum total of the small changes reaped huge dividends, and altered the culture of the team.

Previously Daley Thompson famously won a gold medal by training harder than any of his competitors. The magnificent Mo Farah’s coach Alberto Salazar forcefully makes the point that this is no longer a way to gain a competitive advantage over time as it inevitably leads to injury – and somebody will always manage that bit more as there are now so many more talented competitors. He makes the point that there is a need to work hard as Mo did, but there comes a point when working harder brings little extra reward and a danger of setting yourself back through injury. Differentiation comes through working and finding different ways to hone his capabilities. utilising his natural strengths with adaptation rather than trying to completely re-invent himself.


Mo Farah, with coach Alberto Salazar
Mo Farah, with coach Alberto Salazar

For Mo Farah this meant adapting his running style slightly and building his core strength as these would provide greater returns and bigger differences than doing more and more mileage. As soon as he feels a sore calf they adapt what Mo does rather than do more of the same, to keep him training but to avoid injury. How this contrasts with many clients we have who over-do their strengths (see the previous blog) and just work longer. This might assist them to tick off their ‘to do’ list for a sense of relief and achievement, however it often lowers their overall effectiveness as they miss opportunities to do different things and soar to what they could achieve.

From these exemplars of excellence we would suggest that you

  • recognise your achievements over the past 12 months and how you have personally adapted and developed
  • instead of setting huge change targets decide on some marginal gains that can become habitual  – and follow through
  • identify where you are doing more of the same (like working longer and longer hours) whilst hoping to get a different result. Find smarter ways of protecting your prime asset – you!
  • use some of our lessons from neuroscience to help you work in smarter way that strengthens your brain, not pushes you towards burnout.
Work in a way that best utilises your brain!
Work in a way that best utilises your brain!

Whether you are a salesperson trying to adapt to RDR and the issues of charging fees, a manager coping with a more diverse set of people reporting to you, a leader trying to respond to competitive challenges, or one of the splendid learning and development people we work with – we hope to work with you again in 2013 on marginal gains that will improve your performance, sense of achievement and well being.






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