The power of marginal gains
Hone Recognize Marginal gains

By Bonnie Hutchinson

From cycling to health care?


The experience of the British Cycling team has been applied in many different fields: sports, business, aviation – and health care. You can benefit from finding out what they’ve learned. As well, Hone Virtual Education has a Resource that provides practical help to apply what British Cycling learned to your health care practice. Read on…

The story: from “laughing stock” to world champion

In 2002, the British Cycling team was known as a laughing stock within the sport. In its 76 year history, British Cycling had won just a single gold medal. The team’s record was so bad that some companies selling cyclist equipment refused to sell to the UK team because the company thought that might harm the company’s reputation!

Enter a new head of British Cycling, Sir Dave Brailsford. Under his leadership, the British Cycling team improved so much that by 2008 at the Beijing Olympics, the British team won seven out of ten gold medals available in track cycling. It was not a one-off. They dominated cycling events in the 2012 London Olympics and the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Beyond Olympic wins, in Tour de France events, a British cyclist has come in Number One in six out of the past seven years, including five consecutive years from 2014 to 2018. To put that in context, Britain had not won the Tour de France in the preceding 99 years!

What made the difference? Marginal gains.

New coach, new approach

Sir Dave Brailsford is a former professional cyclist who also holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) – an interesting combination! While working on his MBA, he’d been fascinated by “kaizen” – a Japanese word meaning “improvement.” It’s a process improvement technique based on the idea that small, ongoing positive changes (“marginal gains”) can add up to major improvements. Sir Dave thought the techniques could be applied to cycling. He gambled that if the team analyzed everything that goes into competing on a bike and then improved each element by 1%, they would achieve a significant increase in overall performance.

Their consistent stunning record in the past ten years speaks to the success of that calculated gamble.

Recognize Hone Respiratory distress

Three “podium pillars”

In an interview with Eben Harrell, Sir Dave explained, “We had three pillars to our approach, which we called ‘the podium principles.’ The first one was the strategy. The second was human performance. We weren’t even thinking of cycling, but more about behavioural psychology and how to create an environment for optimum performance. The third was continuous improvement.”

So what does this have to do with health care – and you?

What can health care – and you – learn from the British Cycling experience? More important, how can you apply it to your health care practice?

The next three blog posts will tell you more about how British Cycling’s three podium pillars apply to health care – and your practice.

Watch for…

…how “marginal gainsstrategy took British Cycling to Olympic Gold and how a hospital used this strategy to become one of the safest hospitals in North America; the focusing on core success factors strategy took British Cycling to Tour de France wins, and how you can use this strategy to increase diagnostic expertise within the first few minutes of patient contact;

…how British Cycling used performance psychology research in every phase of its cyclist training regime, and how you can use it to increase your professional expertise throughout your career;

…how continuous improvement allowed British Cycling to maintain its global dominance, and how you can use this principle in your practice.

In the meantime, you can…

  • Learn more about how Hone Virtual Education uses the three “podium pillars” in its Recognize simulation training by;

  • Be notified of updates and launch dates;

Scientific Articles

1. “The Art of Marginal Gains,” Wit+Wisdom, Ambit Search Toronto (2017).

2. Eben Harrell: “How 1% Performance Improvements Led to Olympic Gold” (2015).

Bonnie Hutchinson is a freelance writer and lifelong learner with degrees in Education and Whole Systems Design and extensive training and experience in adult learning and teaching. She’s the author of bestselling Transitions: Pathways to the Life and World Your Soul Desires.