For over a century, the British national cyclist team was such a disgrace that their bicycle manufacturer no longer wanted to sponsor them; their poor record was hurting the brand.
In 2003, David Brailsford became coach and transformed the team by implementing new strategies. Initially, the cycling world considered his approach strange. But when the team set seven world records and won nine Olympic gold medals, people took notice. The same team that had not won a Tour de France in over 110 years suddenly emerged in first place for three consecutive years.
Braisford was onto something, but what?
Just one percent. He believed that if you consider everything involved in bike riding and improve each part by a mere one percent, the compounding change would be massive.
First, Brailsford adjusted the bike seats to promote optimal comfort. Next, the bikers wore lightweight uniforms with heated shorts to support ideal muscle temperature. Then the team became more precise with their nutritional intake. A surgeon taught the athletes proper handwashing techniques to prevent sickness during competitions. Lastly, the bikers upgraded their pillows and mattresses to ensure proper sleep posture while on tour.
In an interview with Harvard Business Review, Coach Brailsford explained, “We searched for small improvements everywhere, and found countless opportunities. Taken together, we felt they gave us a competitive advantage.”
Although the changes weren’t immediate, the effects coalesced. The team won seven out of ten possible gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and matched that record in London in 2012. These tiny improvements enabled their squad to win a total of 178 world championships and five Tour de France victories in ten years.
The Talmud (Sukkah 5A) teaches that when a person tries to accomplish too much, he usually ends up empty-handed. Coach Brailsford utilized three specific, small changes that can be applied to most people’s lives today.
Most of the changes that the team implemented were purely technical. They did not undergo any additional training or improve the skill level of the cyclists. This concept can be applied to both parenting and self-growth. There is a well-known parenting term called “technical success.” This concept involves making technical tweaks throughout our day to elicit more cooperation and positive behavior from our children. For example, keeping children that typically bicker seated further apart at the dinner table or in the car can create a more pleasant atmosphere.
Technical success can also be utilized for our personal transformation. Personally, I had committed to learn a daily paragraph from the book A Lesson a Day but it sat mostly unused until I placed it in my line of vision, which enabled me to be more consistent. I did not have to change my character or make difficult choices to achieve this growth. I made a simple, technical alteration by reducing the energy required for the task.
We are all surrounded by technical success opportunities throughout our day. By tweaking these aspects, we can succeed in our goals.
When approaching the Olympics, Coach Brailsford zeroed in on determining the power required at the starting line, and which athletes would benefit from the training that would help them close the gap. If an athlete was incapable of change, he was ruthlessly cut from the team. As Braisford put it, “Not all athletes are destined for the podium, and we weren’t interested in fourth place.”
Just as he removed the players that didn’t make the cut, we must mercilessly remove negative traits from our essence. We can examine the struggles that keep resurfacing, and then work on those specific challenges.
If you can’t face your most challenging demons right away, try beating the yetzer hara through entering another door: the most accessible one.
Coach Brailsford explained that once the team started implementing technical tweaks, the athletes tried to identify growth opportunities, and then shared their ideas with the group. The team’s “scavenger hunt-like” enthusiasm became contagious. The small tweaks snowballed, and ultimately created a culture of positive growth.
Pirkei Avot (4:2) states, “Mitzvah goreret mitzvah – one mitzvah leads to another.
I once offered to pick something up from the store for a friend who had a baby. It was easy. I was already there. This led me to an additional mitzvah of delivering the item. While I was there, I saw she was struggling to juggle the needs of her three-year-old and newborn, so I offered to have her daughter over for a playdate. One five-minute mitzvah led to more and we became great friends, often helping one another.
Small improvements, moving one percent in the right direction, can change your life, the life of another, and even a whole team. Imagine if every one of us grew in tiny ways each day, what the Jewish people would look like, and how much pleasure we would give to our Creator.