Gold Medals, Kaizen and the Aggregation of Marginal Gains
The French are worried - in fact they can’t work it out. Just how are the TeamGB cycling team managing to dominate every other nation in winning 70% of the gold medals on offer at the Velodrome? Do TeamGB use “magic wheels”?
If they look carefully, the French will discover that the answer lies in a potent combination of factors that make TeamGB virtually unbeatable - great leadership (coaching); talented riders (raw materials) and an approach to gaining competitive advantage that is based on Kaizen - the concept of continuous improvement.
Dave Brailsford is the man who has led the incredible rise of TeamGB cycling. He has coined the phrase “the aggregation of marginal gains” to describe the approach of his team to identifying every possible source of improvement in performance on the track.
In a BBC radio interview during the Olympics, Brailsford outlined what he thinks has been the key to competitive success:
“Firstly, you need a team with the skills and motivation to succeed”
“Secondly, you need to understand what you want to achieve”
“Thirdly, you need to understand where you are now”
“Then, you need to put a plan in place to see how you can get from where you are now to what you want to achieve”
“Also, it’s important to understand the ‘aggregation of marginal gains’. Put simply….how small improvements in a number of different aspects of what we do can have a huge impact to the overall performance of the team.”
There are some fantastic lessons just in the above for business students and I’m keen to explore further how the success of TeamGB can be linked to core topics in business specifications (e.g. planning, leadership, motivation).
However, let’s just look a little further at that phrase “‘aggregation of marginal gains’.
What this means is that the entire TeamGB cycling operation is driven by a simple desire - to seek tiny improvements in many areas that add up to a significant gain in competitive performance.
This is what we mean by the concept of continuous improvement (Kaizen). It is a philosophy; a culture; an approach which encourages creative, innovative thinking. Experimentation is the name of the game, where are possible improvement is explored.
Much of this work is done by a team known as the “Secret Squirrel Club” - a team of specialist coaches, engineers and other experts who engage in research and development into cycling performance.
What this all adds up to is a stunning performance by TeamGB’s cycling team. So, as Sir Chris Hoy punched the air in delight at gaining his sixth Olympic gold medal, he could thank Kaizen for helping him cross the line first.
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