The Aggregation of Marginal Gains

The Aggregation of Marginal Gains

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I am always talking about achieving huge goals. I am also the first to believe that anyone can achieve big goals. Whilst it’s vital to have and articulate a big vision and mission, actually achieving what you set out to do is another story. This is why we need to recognise ‘The Aggregation of Marginal Gains’.

So, what is the Aggregation of Marginal Gains? It means the identification of a number of areas in which you can make small gains, which all add up to something much greater.

A phrase coined by one of the finest elite sports coaches in the world – Sir Dave Brailsford –  this philosophy was used by the UK cycling team to win most of the medals at the recent Olympics in London, and by Team Sky to win last year’s Tour de France. British Cycling has risen from nowhere to lead the world in a relatively short space of time, building a platform for lasting success.

They appear to have achieved the impossible, but inside the machinery, there is a remarkably simple yet all-consuming approach at play. They look at the tiniest detail, from the air pressure of a bicycle tyre or the shape of a spoke, to the aerodynamics of a helmet or  the fabric of cycle clothing; each action looking to shave off milliseconds in speed: altogether improving overall performance. And it goes further than that – lifestyle changes and things apparently unconnected to cycling: looking at the mattresses they sleep on, the way they wash their hands. No stone is left unturned. Everything can be improved upon for optimal achievement.

Whilst most people look for a few big improvements, the smart thinker looks for lots of small things to take action on, to finesse their performance. I personally use this philosophy  to great effect – even without a bike!

It is so simple, it can be used by any individual or business. What tiny thing can we do to optimise one aspect of our performance? And then, what else? Every detail of life and work can be improved. If you improve every single thing you do in a small way, those tiny improvements can all add up to achieve something incredible over time.

If you read the 60 (and more) blog posts in this series, you will find that every one of them is about an edge I have developed. And these are just the ones I have written about. There are literally hundreds more little things I have improved, that all add to the foundations of my success.

From the shoes I wear, to what I eat for breakfast, to how I train, to the way my business card is designed, to the way I smile at everyone. Every single thing I do is with purpose and designed to give me a small edge, all to contribute to the overall goal of making a massive difference in the world. No individual improvement is the answer to everything, but all these small changes add up to something pretty remarkable, judging by the speed my life is progressing. And you can do the same. (click to tweet)

I am constantly testing out new ways to get an edge. First, because I enjoy it, and secondly, because I know the benefits of this approach. The breadth of things I focus on improving makes me different: I have the desire to work on things that others might think are trivial, but I know they all add up to making my vision a reality and achieving my mission.

I am not saying that whatever works for me will work for you – but it can. A mentality of constantly looking to make many small gains will get you more in the long term than one big shortcut.

  • What small things can you change to optimise your performance?

  • What will they all add up to, so that you can achieve the impossible?

Whether it is winning the Tour De France or changing the world, the aggregation of marginal gains is taking people places they’d never dreamed of. It can really take you places, too.

In the long term, small things really do count.

As always I would love to hear your experiences, thoughts and feedback. Speak Your Mind below.


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  1. Great post. Yes, small things done consistently bring big change!

  2. Small changes? OK, but I still love the pick-up-and-move 2000 miles kind!

    • Oh yes. The problem for me is so many people use not having those things as an excuse not to take the big things on. There are always small things. There aren’t always mind blowingly massive things that are easy to change.

  3. Ever since you told me about the aggregation of marginal gains last year I live and die by it as it just makes perfect sense. My son, Cal, has this firmly in his mentality with everything he does relating to his football with Leicester City and we call it “looking for that “1%”. For that alone “thank you”!

  4. Reminds me of Toyota and their assembly line process. Loved this post and this reminder that most of the great wins are in the details!

  5. Cool post Marc. From little things, big things grow.

  6. So so right.

    I have just got round to reading this and I totally agree. It’s the sum of many smaller parts that makes something truly amazing happen. I remember the BBC interviewing Dave and taking about the level of detail that went into picking the right pillow for the riders to ensure they slept as comfortably as possible to aid recovery. Team Sky and the British team are testament to the results.

    • mamokhethi says

      Thank you for all this information because small things can build up a nation and can change the world. Even a project is broken down into milestones or phases to be manageble and achievable.

  7. It was a great interview. The same philosophy can be applied to your own life. Get geeky about the detail!

  8. Marius Gaina says

    This is , in very broad terms, how evolution works- small genetic mutations over an extended period of time, with each generation slightly better (i.e. better adapted to the environment) than the previous one.

    Another advantage to this sort of approach is, that if you fail, or are inconsistent with that small improvement, the cost associated with it (cost in general terms) is relatively small and manageable rather than the cost of a big decision that eventually goes South. .
    For example, if you decide you want to learn Spanish and enroll for an online course, but in the end fail to learn it (maybe you didn’t like the language or the structure of the course was not well tailored etc.) the failure in terms of finance, time, energy, relationship stress would be greatly inferior to moving to Barcelona for 12 months and realizing you actually don’t like the weather and the language is impossible. (although let’s be honest, Barcelona is awesome and Spanish is not that difficult 🙂 )

  9. Marc I love your posts! I really enjoyed the opportunity to read this right now just before the new year. It’s very true – we think goals and the easy tendency is to go into Big Vision thinking, skipping right past the small opportunities right in front of us. A perfect reminder not to overlook the immediately available and achievable.

  10. Good blog you have got here.. It’s difficult to
    find quality writing like yours these days. I really
    appreciate individuals like you! Take care!!

  11. I ‘ve started using this concept to approach practice time on my musical instrument, perhaps with a different spin. There are days when one may dread facing another day of many hours of practice. Instead of thinking about, say, the three hours needed, I only focus on 1% of that time, about 2 minutes, and begin. I find that once I have started and finshed the 1%, I am in the groove, so to speak, and continue onward. Thinking about 2 minutes instead of 3 hours gives me a good mental springboard to forge ahead.

    Thanks for your insights!

  12. Thanks for this! I’m an “I need to change everything now and I need to be perfect and if I can’t I’ll do nothing” kind of girl and that’s getting me nowhere.

  13. Merveilleux poste, continue comme ça

  14. Jе peux vous dire que cce n’est nullement absurde !!!

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