From Deputy Head of College, Graham Leddie
An update on what we’ve been talking about with our students during Wellbeing Time at Waverley College.
Wellbeing Time – Aggregation of marginal gains
I read an article recently that examined some of the thinking of Mr Dave Brailsford. I believe our students can take a lot from his thinking and apply it to their own pathway. Often as parents we tell our sons and daughters where we would like some improvement, but struggle to articulate the process of how to do this, other than a general ‘work harder’, ‘apply yourself’ etc. (I know I do.)
Brailsford, took up the role as General Manager and Performance Director of Team Sky (Great Britain’s professional cycling team) in 2010. Up to this point, Great Britain had never had a cyclist win the Tour de France. Brailsford’s approach to change this was simple. He believed in a concept that he referred to as the ‘aggregation of marginal gains.’
The aggregation of marginal gains is ‘the one per cent margin for improvement in everything you do’. Brailsford belief was that if you improved every area related to cycling by just one per cent, your small gains would add up to remarkable improvement.
Brailsford started working on the things you might expect; the nutrition of riders, their weekly training program, the ergonomics of the bike seat, and the weight of the tyres. Brailsford and his team however did not stop there, they searched for one per cent improvements in tiny areas that were overlooked by almost everyone else. For example, discovering the pillow that offered the best sleep and taking it with them to hotels, testing for the most effective type of massage gel, and teaching riders the best way to wash their hands to avoid infection. They searched for one per cent improvements everywhere.
Brailsford believed that if they could successfully execute this strategy, then Team Sky would be in a position to win the Tour de France in five years time. He was wrong… they won it in three years. From there, British cycling has dominated world cycling for the past six years – just look at their performance in Rio.
The take away for all of us is to highlight how easy it can be to overestimate the importance of one defining moment, and underestimate the value of making better decisions on a daily basis. Almost every habit you have, good or bad, is the result of many small decisions over time. Improving by just one per cent isn’t notable and sometimes it isn’t even noticeable, but it can be just as meaningful, especially in the long run. If you find yourself stuck with bad habits or poor results, it’s usually not because something happened overnight. It’s the sum of many small choices – a one per cent decline here and there – that eventually leads to a problem.
In the beginning, there is basically no difference between making a choice that is one per cent better or one per cent worse. In other words, it won’t impact you very much today. But as time goes on, these small improvements or declines compound and you suddenly find a very big gap between people who make slightly better decisions on a daily basis and those who don’t. This is why small choices don’t make much of a difference at the time, but add up over the long term. There is power in small wins and slow gains. This is why the system is greater than the goal. This is why mastering your habits is more important than achieving a certain outcome.
Success is a few simple disciplines, practiced every day; while failure is simply a few errors in judgment, repeated every day. As we approach the end of Term 3, hopefully there is something in this for all of us that we can take on board as we face our own challenges; exams, assignment submissions, HSC and friendships. The boys have been encouraged to remember that, tomorrow never comes, start making those one percent changes today.