We’re gripped with Olympic fever here in the UK during London 2012 as you might expect. Today has been a particularly special day (4 golds, 2 silvers and a bronze so far) for Team GB taking us to our best result in over a century, but one of the highlights was a brilliant interview on BBC Breakfast TV this morning with Dave Brailsford, the Performance Director who has revolutionised British Cycling, the team that’s leading our medal charge. It has some great messages for any business that I wanted to share, so I transcribed his words with some help from my new iPhone’s voice recognition.
Dave masterminded the Cycling team’s amazing success in Beijing, and put together a plan to win the Tour de France in 5 years, but actually did it in 2 and a half, when Bradley Wiggins won in such emphatic style just days before these games started. Even though the rules were changed, seemingly to make it more difficult to win as many medals, in this Olympics on road the British team has won 1 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze, and on track 7 golds, 1 silver and 1 bronze. An amazing performance. On the BBC News this morning Sally Nugent asked Dave – how do you do it?
“Well essentially I think, you know, you’ve got to have great riders with the talents, but more importantly with the commitment – there’s no point in having the talent and not the commitment and if you’ve got the commitment but not the talent it doesn’t work either, so you need both of those and then fundamentally it’s all about coaching, and very good coaching – we work very hard. We always start start by analysing the demands of the event we want to win, so we really figure out what would it take to win whatever it is we want to win, then we prioritise because you know you can’t win everything, you know you will lose more than you win, that’s for sure, so you decide what you want to win, and then we work back to where we are today and look at the gap between where we are today and what we want to win, and create a plan and execute it.”
Sally then asked Dave about “marginal gains”:
“Well the whole principal of marginal gains came from the idea that if you broke down everything that could impact on a cycling performance, absolutely everything you could think of, and then you improved every little thing by 1%, when you clump it all together you get quite a significant increase in performance, so we set about looking at everything we could. Some things are fundamental like fitness, nutrition, biomechanics etc, but there are other things which might seem right on the periphery, but very very important, so posture when you sleep, having the right pillow, having the same pillow so you don’t sleep on different pillows all the time when you move from hotel to hotel in training, hygiene is extremely important, how do you really know how to clean your hands. When you wash your hands, when you ask people to wash their hands, if you put dye on their hands there are always bits between their hands or at the base of their thumb which people don’t wash, if you do all those things you are going to get ill a little bit less – they’re little things but if you clump them all together you improve.”
He went on to describe himself as a conductor of a talented orchestra, but then Nugent had heard of the team’s secret squirrels and asked about them:
“The secret squirrels are a little bit different. They’re more like R&D and innovation – they’re a small group of people led by Chris Boardman who look outside of cycling in to industry, in to the military, in to all aspects of industry, and trying to find where latest innovations are happening and see if there’s anything that is applicable to cycling – they do a great job.”
There are key lessons for the performance of any business, any team, any endeavour here. Inspirational. Dave Brailsford – remember that name.
(Sadly, Dave’s interview isn’t up on the BBC News or Olympics website yet – I’ll keep checking and post a link if it appears.)