Tiny Improvements Compound Into Monumental Change

cycling

(2 min, 30-second read)

There was a time when England was known for their role in cycling — they weren’t very good at it. For 110 years, no cyclist from Great Britain had won the Tour De France. No British cyclist had been awarded an Olympic gold medal since before the Titanic sank. A well-known British cycling company refused to sell bicycles to the main British Olympic cycling team so as not to be associated with their lackluster record. This all changed when the main body governing professional cycling in England hired Dave Brailsford.

Dave Brailsford was a coach completely obsessed with tiny details. Things that most people would look over, Brailsford would try to improve, even seemingly microscopically. He believed that it wouldn’t be one single improvement that would return Britain from an abysmal cycling history, but instead thousands of teeny tiny improvements. Brailsford hired a surgeon to teach the cycling team how to most effectively wash their hands so they wouldn’t get sick. He tested uniform materials in a wind tunnel to measure drag. He coated the bicycle tires with alcohol to improve their grip. He made sure that each of the cyclists had the optimum mattress so they could get the best night’s sleep. He even had the inside of the equipment van painted white so that no bicycle-hindering speck of dirt could escape their sight. To the average onlooker, all of these micro-improvements seemed like the behavior of a crazy person.

The result? All of the tiny improvements that the British cycling organization made compounded on one another and made all the difference. In the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, England took home 60% of the gold metals. British cyclists won the Tour De France in 2008, 2009, 2015, 2016, and 2017. British cyclists won 178 world championships and 66 Olympic and Paralympic gold medals.

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