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  • Writer's pictureClint


Where can you make the 1% improvements in business and life?

Al Pacino, arguably one of the greatest actors of all-time, has inspired millions of people, business’s and elite sporting teams with his inspirational speech from the film ‘Any Given Sunday’ which has left its mark long after the credits rolled in late 1999.

Pacino’s speech in the locker room at half time has impacted organisations such as The All Blacks (NZ’s national rugby union team), Arsenal Football Club (UK premier league) and Team Sky Cycling (Britain’s professional racing team). As well as countless organisation’s globally.

Pacino’s locker room speech even made its way into our pre-season at the Melbourne Football Club, as many of the backline players felt that it represented a mantra that would extract the very best out of us as well as signify the way we wanted to prepare and play as a team.

As much as I would like to give credit to Mr Pacino let’s look a little deeper to find out why this speech has been referenced as a strategic blueprint of success in teams and organisations around the world.

It’s not a new concept but executed properly it can have an enormous impact and sustained success.

It’s called the aggregation of marginal gains.

This is when as a team you make lots of small ‘easy to do’ improvement’s which can make the end result the difference between winning and losing, successful and unsuccessful. And it can apply to anything physical, technical, operational, psychological, operational, managerial, cultural and practical.

John Olsen the author of the ‘The Slight Edge’ dedicates his book to this concept of turning simple disciplines into a massive success.

“In the beginning, there is basically no difference between making a choice that is 1% better or 1% 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 (‘I’ll take a burger and fries’) don’t make much of a difference at the time but add up over time.”

So, if this concept is not new and the philosophy is actioning small ‘easy to do’ actions why is it hard to get right?

Olsen mentions that because they are easy to do actions they are also easy ‘not to do’ and therefore most people give up on creating those good habits that at first are clunky and difficult to complete but after a while, they become easier until we master them and then these smaller actions have a positive compounding effect.

The NZ All Blacks implement the theory of marginal gains into everything they do with an emphasis on a personal development plan for their players each day which is role modelled and held accountable by their leadership group.

Former All Blacks captain, Sean Fitzpatrick, is quoted from the book “Legacy” (written by James Kerr) as saying:

“Success is modest improvement consistently done”. 

The cumulative effect of this per player and staff is one of the main reasons why the All Blacks are the best.

Team Sky are fastidious about their marginal gains as implemented by their GM and Performance director, Dave Brailsford, as they are the envy of every team on the Tour De France.

Brailsford says:

“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…they’re tiny things but if you clump them together it makes a big difference.”

The team has so far redeveloped their racing bike with the manufacturer Pinarello, the riders use the same mattress and pillows before each race to make sure they’re comfortable and relaxed, as well as using colour coded water bottles throughout the year so the riders know which bottles have water and which have energy drinks.

This is why 1 percenters are often a key performance indicator of winning teams in the AFL as they highlight whether or not the team is prepared to do the small sometimes unseen actions (spoils, shepherds, smothers and chases) because if ‘we get that right’ the winning will look after itself!

Whether you’re in sport or business, how prepared is your team to look for those extra inches and to make the tough decisions that will enable your organisation to go from good to great?

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I love the book Legacy, so many incredible stories and methodologies regarding inches. No wonder the All Blacks are so good!

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