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What every firm can learn from the Tour de France

A management philosophy that transformed a sport and re-energized a nation.

The Tour de France is not only one of the oldest competitions in the world -- starting in 1903 -- it is also considered the world's largest annual sporting event, with a reported 15 million spectators.

Talent is not enough

The desire to succeed is ubiquitous. And yet, how we define "success" is singularly unique. For British Cycling, success was to medal in the Olympic games. At the 2004 games, Great Britain won two gold medals, the most since 1908. And then, astonishingly, the British won eight gold medals in 2008 and another eight in 2012. The British continued this strategy and concomitant success into professional road racing with the formation British-based Team Sky in 2010. Incredibly, Team Sky has won six out of the past seven Tour de France. Prior to David Brailsford (Team Sky's innovative manager), no British rider had ever won the Tour. How was it done? How could a country become such a cycling powerhouse in so short a time? Enter Brailsford and the philosophy of Marginal Gains.

The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together"

Sir David Brailsford is considered the mastermind of British cycling. A former professional cyclist with a Masters in Business Administration, Brailsford believed that if you parsed every aspect of cycling down to its core and improved each area by just 1%, the result would be a significant increase in the aggregate performance.

The Podium Principles

The process for identifying areas for improvement centered around three pillars:

  1. Strategy What is it going to take for us to win? Where are our advantages/disadvantages?

  2. Human Performance How do the riders need to prepare for optimal performance? Nutrition/training/equipment

  3. Continuous Improvement Always learning/evolving

Application Outside of Cycling

“Think small, not big, and adopt a philosophy of continuous improvement.”

Think of your organization; what are your goals? What is the success that you are striving to achieve? Think about every aspect of your business, question every routine, and look for your opportunities to achieve a 1% improvement. When we are completely candid with ourselves, no matter how good we may be at any one-thing, isn't it possible to do it just a little better tomorrow? Furthermore, if we embrace the concept of continuous improvement, it becomes fixed in our culture. It becomes infectious. Everyone starts looking for areas to improve.

Get Inspired

Even if you have a good team in place and they are all performing well, Sir David has proved that there are nearly endless areas for continuous improvement. Go out and win your race.

Good luck!


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