Two Wheels Good


Life is full of tough choices and Sunday afternoon could have been a fine example…

Cricket? Watch England wrest the initiative back from South Africa? Golf? Could Adam Scott hang on? Or the F1 – was it finally time for Jenson Button to climb back on top of the podium?

But worthy as all those sporting events were, in reality there was no choice to make. Because once you’d flicked over to ITV to see how the final stage of the Tour de France was going, you were hooked. Unless you’ve spent the last week in a cave you’ll now know that Bradley Wiggins was the first British winner of the Tour in its 99 year history. Team-mate Chris Froome was second: Mark Cavendish won the sprint on the Champs Elysee for the fourth time…

The list goes on, and it was simply spellbinding to watch. Despite my encounter with the tree (it’s a year ago this week…) I really like cycling. Perhaps I don’t know quite as much as I’d like to about professional cycling and the tactics and technicalities that are behind it, but on Sunday you didn’t need to.

The commitment and the determination were there for everyone to see – but the thing that really stood out for me was the quite astonishing teamwork of Team Sky. It’s just about the oldest business cliché in the world to say ‘there’s no “i” in team’ but have you ever seen a better example than that? Chris Froome – who could well have won the Tour himself – putting his personal ambitions aside to help Wiggins. World champion Mark Cavendish taking his turn fetching drinks; Wiggins repaying the favour by setting up Cavendish for the final sprint…

And behind it all Dave Brailsford, who did an outstanding job with the British Olympic cyclists in Beijing and is doing no less an outstanding job with Team Sky.

But this is a business blog, not a sports blog, so what business lessons can we learn from Sunday’s triumph? Ignoring the obvious teamwork/goals/commitment ones, I think there’s a particularly interesting piece of Team Sky/Brailsford philosophy that has important lessons for anyone running a small business. It’s Brailsford’s commitment to “aggregating small gains.”

This first came out at Beijing where the British team looked for small gains in every area of their performance – and when these small gains were added together they made a significant difference. I think this is a valuable lesson that you can apply to your business. Maybe it doesn’t make much difference if you reduce the average time someone takes to pay an invoice from 40 days to 38; it doesn’t make much difference if you shave 1% off the cost of your purchases, or if you fractionally increase your prices without losing any sales. But taken together measures like these could really impact on the bottom line – in just the same way as a fractional improvement in aerodynamics, a fractionally better diet or a fractionally lighter bike come together to contribute to a gold medal or le maillot jaune.

Success at Beijing and the victory of Bradley Wiggins owed a lot to realising that everything matters. As someone once said, ‘Genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains.’

Cross out the word ‘genius’ and substitute sporting success or business success and the sentence still makes perfect sense.

[If you’d like to read more about the reasons for the Team Sky success, and the philosophy behind it, there’s a particularly interesting article here.]

No two ways about it, small, incremental gains work – and can make a big difference to your business. If you’ve had success doing this – or if you’ve any advice on what we can all do to achieve small gains – I’d love to hear from you.

For now though, I’m going out on my bike. But like all great cyclists, what I really need is a nickname. Mark Cavendish is known as the Manx Missile. I live in South Milford. I’ll leave it you…

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3 comments

  1. Jo Clarkson · July 27, 2012

    The South Milford Streak………?!

  2. Pingback: So Here It Is… | EdReidYork's Blog

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