The Law of Marginal Gains: Improving Every Aspect of Business By One Percent

Simak Muhammed
Oct 23, 2018 · 4 min read
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“The law of marginal gains comes from the idea that if you break down a big goal to small parts and improve on each small parts, you can have a huge improvement when you put them back together. Or the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts.”

It’s hard to make everything one percent better. Know why? Because the results cannot be noticed when you make the changes. It may take months or even years to see the changes.

The law comes from this story:

No British cyclist had ever won the Tour de France, but as the new General Manager and Performance Director for Team Sky (Great Britain’s professional cycling team), Brailsford was asked to change that.
His approach was simple.
Brailsford believed in a concept that he referred to as the “aggregation of marginal gains.” He explained it as “the 1 percent margin for improvement in everything you do.” His belief was that if you improved every area related to cycling by just 1 percent, then those small gains would add up to remarkable improvement.
They started by optimizing the things you might expect: the nutrition of riders, their weekly training program, the ergonomics of the bike seat, and the weight of the tires.
But Brailsford and his team didn’t stop there. They searched for 1 percent improvements in tiny areas that were overlooked by almost everyone else: 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 1 percent 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.
In 2012, Team Sky rider Sir Bradley Wiggins became the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France. That same year, Brailsford coached the British cycling team at the 2012 Olympic Games and dominated the competition by winning 70 percent of the gold medals available.
In 2013, Team Sky repeated their feat by winning the Tour de France again, this time with rider Chris Froome. Many have referred to the British cycling feats in the Olympics and the Tour de France over the past 10 years as the most successful run in modern cycling history.
(James James Clear

Gather your team.Have a meeting everyday or so on improving small parts of your big business. Here are some suggestions. I’ll break down the improvables. (Search google for the things you don't understand or ask me in the comments)


Acquiring customers: Try one new method of getting new customers. Eg: Facebook messenger marketing (see Larry Kim )

Conversion: Try different design on your website. See what your best salesperson does to convert a prospect to a customer. Study the words he uses to close the sale. Teach those method to your entire sales team

Increasing average sale amount: Try up-selling and cross selling.

Retention: Give some imperatives for the customer to come back next time to you when they want the product/service. Give 5% off on next purchase voucher sort of offers. Test what works for you the best

Referral: Give referral incentives like “for every customer you brings, 10% Off on your next purchase”


Cross train: Send a high performing sales star with averages to analyze what’s wrong with his methods

Motivation: Give motivation everyday. It’s like bathing. You have to do it everyday

Ask sales people to read books and listen to taps/videos: It helps them learn new methods and remain motivated


Six Thinking Hats: Adopt Dr. De Bono’s methods of creative thinking. Best tool ever developed for creativity (and meetings)

Encourage employees to come up with solutions for the problems you're facing

Adopt Design Thinking: Design thinking is the method Innovation method of the 21st century

Corporate Decision Making

Learn: Learn the pitfalls in your decision making. They are called cognitive biases. Learn one bias everyday.

Checklist: Create a checklist of things to consider when making decisions. Like whether you are falling for statistical errors like base rate neglect

Decision Journal: Write down your thoughts, feelings and anticipated results when making decisions. Review it after a couple of months to see whether the process you use to make decisions are right or whether it needs an update.

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