What if 1% is not enough?

The idea that a 1% change is enough to go from 4th place to the podium is powerful. But what if incremental improvement is not enough and a more radical change is needed?  I was asked about this recently during a presentation I gave to a group of managers in a successful investment company.  Their business is growing fast, which means they’re running to keep up with regulatory requirements and higher volumes, with little time to think ahead and make the transformational changes they know will be necessary to stay competitive in the future.  The managers were worried that their current busyness might actually get in the way of long-term success.

Here’s an example from sport that might help.  This picture comes from the Harvard Business Review and shows the improvements in high jumping over the years.  New techniques unlocked new levels of performance, but the improvements were still a progression rather than an immediate step change.


Although the changes in technique were radical they came about through the dogged pursuit of millimeters.  Each innovator challenged the basic assumptions about how to get over the bar.  This is not easy, because over time we take our basic assumptions for granted and they become invisible.  It’s only when someone is brave, or naïve, enough to ask ‘why do we do it that way?’ or ‘what would happened if we stopped doing it?’ or ‘why can’t we…?’ that the possibility of step changes become apparent.

So whether you’re seeking a 1% or 100% improvement the fundamentals are the same. Give yourself the time to think straight, to step away from your immediate demands.  Identify your key assumptions and beliefs then systematically challenge them, reverse them, exaggerate or shrink them.  This requires the capacity to play a little rather than be too linear in your thinking.  You’ve got to be able to spot the rough nugget of an idea and chip away at it to reveal the gold.

If you’d like some help to set up the right conditions for a team to think creatively, give me a call. I’ve done this with automotive and major project engineers to help give their thinking a shake.