What is the Aggregation of Marginal Gains?

19 May 2022

Why Should it Matter to You?

You didn’t quit your 9-5 to start a business that is “just fine”. Let’s face it, you started up a business to serve a mission. To follow your passions, to make an impact, to set impressive goals and attain those goals.  

There’s a bit of fantasy behind every entrepreneurial venture, and the last thing we want to think about are the challenges and hard work between us and that dream. 

But what if we took a different look at the process? The pathway to success? What if instead of getting discouraged because we aren't seeing instant success or profit, we reanalyze the factors that got us here?

The Aggregation of Marginal Gains concept is not only a great concept to apply to our business mindsets, but also a great addition to our personal mindsets. It emphasizes the journey more than the end result. 

Time to take a deeper dive into this inspiring notion!

What’s the story behind Aggregation of Marginal Gains?

This may come as a surprise, but the Aggregation of Marginal Gains concept did not come from an entrepreneur, inventor, or economist. It did not come from an author or a professor. Nope– it came from a man named Dave Brailsford, the Performance Director/Cycling Coach for British cycling!

Aggregation of Marginal Gains
David Brailsford. Image: road.cc

After years of discouraging losses, David Brailsford stepped up for the British cycling team and started to dissect all the elements that may affect performance. Diets, bed pillows, van cleanliness– you name it, he analyzed it!

Brailsford then improved every one of these elements by 1%. His theory was that every small change can compound into long-term improvements and that incremental change would slowly lead to significant outcomes. 

Even though this may seem a bit meticulous, his theory proved valid: The team went on to win 7 Tours de France within 8 years and won 16 Olympic gold medals. (Pretty noteworthy results if you ask us!) 

Where does this concept fit into your life?

Basically, the Aggregation of Marginal Gains means it pays to focus on the smaller picture versus the big picture/end goal. Sometimes we can get distracted by the big picture and multiple ideas. Not only can this mentality be overwhelming, but it can be a huge time-waster. 

It makes sense to implement small, gradual changes instead of huge, quick changes. Continuous process improvement will pay off in the long run! This mindset is a lot more likely to keep you on track and headed toward an important achievement.

Aggregation of Marginal Gains

We have now seen this concept in a cycling example, but what about an example that pertains to more people? Don’t worry– there are a lot of ways marginal gains can be incorporated in your life, both personally and professionally!

Physical exercise is a great application of this concept, since a few minutes a day over a long period of time can bring great results.  Another application is journaling daily to improve mindfulness or listening to an educational podcast a few times a week. In terms of your business, you could try to automate an additional process each month or slowly change the structure of sales conversations or marketing approaches. The options are endless!

A few additional points to remember

In our research on this topic, there seemed to be a few additional points that deserve mentioning. After all, no concept can be blindly applied to absolutely every situation!

Be practical- The idea behind the Aggregation of Marginal Gains is the buildup of change over time. But guess what? If you run into obstacles or lose motivation, it can destroy any progress and delay the ultimate goal. 

It’s important to be able to stick with elements that you change or adapt. If you commit to running 5 miles a day when you don’t currently run, you are likely to lose momentum early on. If you set a more realistic goal, like running/walking for 30 minutes every other day, you are much more likely to see success. 

Consider marginal losses- Although this may sound negative, it really doesn’t have to be. Incorporating marginal losses means gradually cutting out habits that detract from your goals. For instance, eat out less or eliminate one unnecessary business expense each week. By losing one habit, you can gain momentum in a positive direction!

Define your focus- The Brailsford story makes it seem like you have to slowly improve everything, but that’s not exactly the case. If you try to focus on everything, it may end up being counterproductive! It’s totally okay to define factors that have a heavier impact and concentrate your focus on those things.

Business Goals

Let’s look at some more benefits behind this concept

Sure, the initial focus may have been on those gold medals, but what else can the Aggregation of Marginal Gains concept bring us (and our businesses)?

You may see a better team dynamic. Sometimes troubleshooting and working together on continuous improvements can be motivating for a team! 

You may see less of a focus on an end goal and more of a focus on the process. Attention may shift towards the impact of individual changes and valuable lessons learned along the way. 

You may discover a new definition of success. Rather than instant gratification or quick results, you achieved something that took long-term motivation and refining details/skill sets. 

The Takeaway

Small changes, major impacts! The Aggregation of Marginal Gains concept may initially serve a direct purpose, but it can also indirectly affect a myriad of other things. Where do you see this concept fitting into your life and business?

Contact us for a consultation!

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