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A small boost can deliver big gains

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

Dave Brailsford faced long odds. No British rider had ever won the Tour de France when Brailsford took over Team Sky, Great Britain’s professional bicycling team, in 2010.

But Brailsford had a simple strategy for success: Focus on “peas rather than the steak.” That means concentrating on making incremental improvements in seemingly minor areas rather than dwelling on lofty dreams of victory.

Urging team members to make a “1 percent margin for improvement in everything” they do, Brailsford sought to gain a competitive advantage by aggregating lots of small gains. He figured that these tiny enhancements would collectively produce dramatically better results.

He was right.

In 2012, Bradley Wiggins became the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France. And in the 2012 Olympics, Brailsford coached the British squad to the gold medal.

What kind of minor improvements did Brailsford seek?

He worked with the athletes to make slight gains in their eating habits and training regimen. In terms of bikes, they devised a marginally better design of the seat and optimal tire pressure.

Then they broadened their search for 1 percent gains, including body rhythms and personal habits. Riders began taking their favorite pillows on the road so that they could sleep better at hotels. They experimented with different massage gels to find the ideal product. And they learned to wash their hands in a manner that minimized the odds of infection.

— Adapted from “This Coach Improved Every Tiny Thing by 1 Percent and Here’s What Happened,” James Clear, www.jamesclear.com.

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