Only days to go till the start of this years “Tour de France”, and many British fans are hoping for a Brad Wiggins victory. What better time for a cycling fan like me to consider what business can learn from the world of cycling.
In cycling, as in business, the results you get are not always the results you expect. Just last week, world champion sprinter Mark Cavendish won his first ever general classification jersey in a stage race. While last month general classification rider Bradley Wiggins won his first ever sprint stage!
British cycling, unlike many parts of the world economy, is in fantastic health – whether it is the amazing results in the velodrome, or the astounding rise of the Sky Pro Cycling team. So what has changed?
David Brailsford, team principal at Sky and performance director for team GB, believes that the best way to effect major change is by achieving “Performance Improvement through the Aggregation of Marginal Gains”, which in Brailsford’s words means “taking the 1% from everything you do; finding a 1% margin for improvement in everything you do. That’s what we try to do from the mechanics upwards. If a mechanic sticks a tyre on, and someone comes along and says it could be done better, it’s not an insult – it’s because we are always striving for improvement, for those 1% gains, in absolutely every single thing we do.”
However, Brailsford has never claimed to have invented the process; in fact he is sometimes quoted as borrowing the idea from motor racing’s Formula 1 teams, where the difference between winning and losing can be thousandths of a second.
Lest this piece should appear too self-serving for British cycling, I would also point out that it appears that a similar formula to that used by Sky is now being used to great effect by Australian team Orica GreenEdge – and we wish them well!
Curiously, in business we generally still seem to be stuck in the mould of either following the crowd or ignoring the changes headed our way. By way of an example, I recently met with Mind Map creator Tony Buzan and asked him why his programs – which are extraordinarily successful outside the UK – seem to draw so relatively few in the UK? His response: “Managers seem to be both scared and arrogant – too scared to accept that they need to change faster and too arrogant to accept that others know better how to help them change.”
How sad to think that many of those out on their bikes each Sunday with friends and club members are those very managers, many of whom will spend hundreds if not thousands to have the right equipment, the latest technology and clothing to save a few minutes on friendly weekend cycle race. Yet, come Monday morning back in the office, they become less willing to make such investments in their own business or people.
Back to Cavendish and Wiggins, they too have changed the way they ride, changed the way they train and, as a consequence, have changed their results – hopefully with the aim of seeing both win the jerseys they dream of at the Tour de France, and the gold medals at the Olympics.
In closing, my question is in what other directions could you look for inspiration? For Brailsford it was Formula 1, Clive Woodward and others, For you it maybe cycling or something completely different. What inspires YOU?
Remember, if we want to be better than the rest we need to do the things that they don’t do. Simply doing what they do will at most provide us with the same results as them and it does not usually even do that.