Marginal gains and the compound effect of daily actions


‘Forget about perfection; focus on progression and compound the improvement.’ –David Brailsford.


As a professional athlete – training both myself and my horses, I became aware at a young age that consistent attention to small actions over time created the biggest results.


Today as a PR, I often remind clients that the weekly and monthly small actions build up to create the biggest impact. Regular local and trade news, regular social media, video and knowledge share – all build up like bricks in a wall to create your expertise and cement your position as a thought leader. 


Little did I know as an athlete in the late 90’s and early 2000’s that what I had discovered would become a world famous principle. 


What are marginal gains?


Marginal gains is an innovative concept famously used by David Brailsford who was hired to turn the British cycling team’s luck around. He challenged the team to get 1% better each day, applying small changes to create a bigger impact in the long run.¹

From winning only 2 bronze medals in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, David Brailsford ‘urged the whole team to keep looking out for incremental gains’ and his efforts led to a whopping 8 gold medals, 2 silver and 2 bronze at the 2012 London Olympics, and 6 gold, 4 silver and 1 bronze in Rio² 


The ‘changes made were tiny, but over time, compounded to make significant impact’ – the compound effect. ¹


‘The marginal gains technique approaches improvement like a marathon, not a sprint.’ Maxim Dsouza 


A key thing to remember when making marginal gains, whether it be to aspects of your life or to a business, is do not give up. 


Keep trying to make ‘continuous improvements even when the results do not show up,’ ². 


You may not see any substantial change immediately, however, over time there will be a clear improvement. 


Using marginal gains in business.


In regard to your business, ‘there is a time and place for transformation change,’ the complete overhaul of your processes and a new way of doing things is a risky³. Don’t get stuck on one big idea that requires a massive change immediately! Make small, continuous improvements that focus on ‘incremental and breakthrough’ changes. Making as many 1% improvements will result in a huge compound effect, avoiding major upheaval for your business. 


James Duval states that when it comes to a business: ‘the smallest of changes and tweaks to existing models and approaches’ have a significantly higher impact than ‘large, disruptive ones in increasing revenue, changing direction, and even choosing an initial path for a start-up.’  


Every business, every company, can be broken down into a collection of individual processes, S. Mansfield


Focus on each specific process and improve it by 1% rather than attempting to change your entire business model. To do this requires patience. You have to ‘make time to consider options and then implement the right change’ and if you’re unsure if it is working, ‘track the change, measure it, review it’ and if it isn’t making significant improvements, adjust it ³.


The idea of marginal gains has become so mainstream that it’s easy for people to gloss over the sheer brilliance of the notion. Patience, measurement of results, and small adjustments over  time are the key; whether in sport or in business.




¹ Bokhari D. Marginal Gains: Transform your Life by Getting 1% Better Each Day

² Productive Club: Dsouza M. Marginal Gains – How to Improve 1% at a Time.  

³ CoachSme: Mansfield S. The Ultimate Guide to Marginal Gains and the 1% Principle


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