The Power of Marginal Gains

The British Cycling team’s marginal gains theory goes like this:  “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”. And as a casual though serious cyclist, I do think a bit about small improvements on the bike – such as increasing the efficiency of every pedal stroke, or finding ways to improve aerodynamics (i.e. shaving my legs :)). All of these things make a huge difference over hours in the saddle

And it just hit me the other week that life is a bit like cycling in this sense. Progress is not made in radical cataclysmic decisions (though sometimes they are), but rather it is the way we live out the mundane and “day-to-day” that is the key. It is the moment by moment decisions in the small and the unseen. It is faithfulness and steadfastness. 

And I think that I have been living under an illusion created by the microwave, 2 minute noodles culture of our day. I have believed the lie that success and productivity and flourishing should come overnight. And so at many times I have been dogged by hopelessness and discouragement because I when I do decide to work at something – success doesn’t come in the 3 days I spend at the task.

Another analogy for the human being in this sense is that of a cruise-liner: steering the human ship doesn’t happen in a few moments –  nor does arriving at our set destination. No ship ever constructed can do an instant 180 degree pivot, and yet if you shift the course by 1 degree, the eventual destination will be radically different. Jim Rohn has a pertinent negative take on the same concept: He once related that nei­ther a mar­riage nor a busi­ness fails overnight. Cat­a­clysmic fail­ure gen­er­ally comes from a series of small, cor­rectable fail­ures. I like to call these fail­ures “one degree failures.”

So I am excited. I am excited for a generation of young people who can hold hold a balance (or fullness) of steadfastness and contentment. A generation who can continue to make these small 1% marginal gains every day will generate a ridiculous amount of momentum for change and for good.






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