Stop trying so hard.  Success is in the margins

Just be better

Dave Brailsford applied a singular philosophy of performance improvement that has been well-recorded elsewhere but it bears repeating because it has great potential for brand and design businesses.

Now Sir David Brailsford CBE, he was performance director of British Cycling and manager of Team Sky when he introduced the programme he called ‘the aggregation 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.”

Dave Brailsford (2012)

Brailsford and his team looked at every micro-detail of the cyclists’ training, bikes, personal kit, diet and healthcare, looking for that tiny margin of improvement everywhere…even teaching the riders how to wash their hands most effectively to reduce the risk of infection.

British cycling went on to brilliant success, winning 59 World Championships in road, track, BMX and mountain bike racing, and 8 golds at both 2008 and 2012 Olympic games before he resigned in 2014.  At Team Sky he managed the victories of Bradley Wiggins (now Sir Bradley) and Chris Froome (now OBE) in the 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016 Tours de France.

Just 1%, every time you look for it.  You can always find that small thing to improve.  It’s not difficult to do.  Significantly less difficult than some of the big leaps forward that agencies hope so much to take.

Clearly the plus-factor is in the aggregation of marginal gains.  One small change on its own makes little noticeable difference, but the compound effect of all the one per cents, delivers a powerful boost right through the entire business.

We use this story because quite often we see so much belief resting on the hoped-for efficacy of a single event to lift consultancies to another level, typically:

The next big pitch

A new Business Development appointment

A key new appointment to the Creative team

A key new appointment to Planning

Just get that big brand client signed up for the next project

Just stop that big brand client from taking the business away

A new website

Any one of these will suddenly attract the status of being the most important event in the life of the business.

But suppose we open up the agency with a spirit of honest and continuous improvement and let in the light to examine the detail of everything that goes on.  There are excellent approaches to this that allow all the people to engage creatively in the process, which serve to move the programme along and promote shared ownership of positive change and a conscious commitment to achieving the ultimate success.

This is a much more natural way to manage and to lead. In time it can embed itself in the culture of the business and deliver success with an impetus of its own.

The evidence says stop trying to win with a single mighty leap again and again.  Just be better, every day.