Marginal Gains Are Not Where You Should Focus

Marginal gains is a voguish mantra for improving performance. Made famous by GB Cycling & Team Sky under David Brailsford it is a philosophy that has its roots in the Japanese manufacturing concept of Kaizen. A hundred things all done 1% better adds up to a lot of change and a lot of additional performance.

So far so simple but for many businesses and organisations what they need to notice and pay attention to in the first instance may not the marginal gains but the marginal subtractions. The grit in the machine the thousand tiny things that make your life and your job more difficult, more troublesome & less satisfying than it should be. Mohammed Ali once observed, ‘It’s not the mountains ahead to climb that will wear you out it: it’s the pebble in your shoe’. The reason so many businesses are average or awful is not because of some single critical issue, it’s because of a thousand tiny things that are meaningless in themselves but which in combination create a dramatic friction that constantly gets in the way and undermines the potential of the organization. A clogging bureaucracy seeking always to control rather than trust. Netflix is a good example of a company that is exceptionally careful of getting out of its own way as it grows. Its travel policy is a great example of simplicity and trust, ‘Act in Netflix best interest.’

As well as paying attention to what can be done better, leaders need also to be mindful and start noticing the grit. Once you see it you can start to do something about it, knowing that each grain removed counts.


Metris Leadership helps businesses build high performance teams, optimized for the challenges of the 21st Century because great teams provide standout competitive advantage.

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