Incremental Gains Add Up Over Time

built to lastThe Tortoise and the Hare is one of Aesop’s Fables.

The story concerns a Hare who ridicules a slow-moving Tortoise and is challenged by the tortoise to a race. The hare soon leaves the tortoise behind and, confident of winning, takes a nap midway through the course. When the Hare awakes however, he finds that his competitor, crawling slowly but steadily, has arrived before him. (Summary from Wikipedia)

“Slow and steady wins the race” is how I’ve heard the moral of the story expressed. It’s a simple concept for leaders to embrace. Incremental gains in effectiveness and efficiency may not seem all that important (or glamorous), but as long as you keep improving in small but very steady ways, you’ll soon leave the competition in the dust.

Consider this article titled; “What Would Happen If You improved Everything by 1%: The Science of Marginal Gains” (Click HERE). The author, James Clear, paints the picture vividly by recalling the efforts of the British cycling team to win the Tour DeFrance:

No British cyclist had ever won the Tour de France, but as the new General Manager and Performance Director for Team Sky (Great Britain’s professional cycling team), that’s what Brailsford was asked to do.

His approach was simple.

Brailsford believed in a concept that he referred to as the “aggregation of marginal gains.” He explained it as the “1 percent margin for improvement in everything you do.” His belief was that if you improved every area related to cycling by just 1 percent, then those small gains would add up to remarkable improvement.

They started by optimizing the things you might expect: the nutrition of riders, their weekly training program, the ergonomics of the bike seat, and the weight of the tires.

But Brailsford and his team didn’t stop there. They searched for 1 percent improvements in tiny areas that were overlooked by almost everyone else: discovering the pillow that offered the best sleep and taking it with them to hotels, testing for the most effective type of massage gel, and teaching riders the best way to wash their hands to avoid infection. They searched for 1 percent improvements everywhere.

Brailsford believed that if they could successfully execute this strategy, then Team Sky would be in a position to win the Tour de France in five years time.

He was wrong.  They won it in three years.

IMGP6852So in business, and in our personal life, small but deterministic changes can lead to bigger and better results. I think this can be true in the development of Trail Life USA as a leading youth program, too.

BSA and many other youth serving programs like YMCA, 4-H and others have had a century to evolve, grow, expand and fine tune their approaches. They’ve also had time to adopt compromises that moved them from initial expectations and methods into new areas that are different from how the founders may have anticipated.

As mentioned in our article about the Flywheel Effect (LINK), Trail Life needs to keep building momentum. Grass roots support helps keep that flywheel turning ever faster, but it is focus keeps us applying pressure in the right direction and in a way that increases speed instead of acting as a brake.

IMGP6811Many well-intentioned people have asked “when will we have our own Order of the Arrow program?” Others have asked about Wood Badge adult leadership courses and such. Its going to take time to get it all done, and done well. We must keep a focus on incremental, patient, deterministic steps in the right direction so that our program becomes highly effective and well sought after as valuable.

Returning to the “Team Sky” example (above) – we need to be looking for the improvements to the program that others are overlooking – instead of emulating existing programs and being “as good as” I’d prefer to see us outclass the other programs by being more efficient, more fun, and more effective at keeping our goals and outcomes closely aligned (stay true to mission).

Discipline is the key to being patient and searching with clear vision for those opportunities to make our program stronger, leaner and more fun. Further, we have the best advantage of all – we can pray, search scriptures for encouragement and exercise our faith in God to show us what really matters as we move forward.

  • 2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
  • Philippians 4:13 ESV “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
  • 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 ESV “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
  • Psalms 27:14 “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!”
  • Galatians 6:9 “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

adjusted trail


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