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Question: What do Lorraine Ashover and Sir Chris Hoy have in common?

Jan 20, 2014

Answer:  They both believe in the benefits of the ‘aggregation of marginal gains’.

I had the honour and privilege of hearing Sir Chris Hoy speak at an Entrepreneur’s Convention last year.  What an inspiration that man is.  Before he spoke I was aware, as most people are, that he is badged as ‘Britain’s Greatest Olympian’.  However, until I heard him talk in detail about what he had achieved and, more importantly, how he had achieved it I had no idea just how ‘Great’ he was.

The focus, energy, time, and sheer determination he has put in to achieve what he has is mind-blowing.  He talked about his training regime and how there were days he really wanted to stay in bed but his complete dedication to achievement of his goals always drove him on.

The thing the really resonated with me though was his total belief in Dave Brailsford’s (Team GB’s Cycling Performance Director) “aggregation of marginal gains”.  Put simply this is “how small improvements in a number of different aspects of what we do can have a huge impact to the overall performance of the team.”  When you are racing at the level these guys and girls are, the difference between winning and losing can be fractions of a second.  You are not going to start shaving 10% off of times when you’re at peak performance levels.  As such you can understand that very small, marginal gains in every area can make the difference between winning and losing.

Just check out this video of Sir Chris at the 2004 Olympics in Athens to understand what I mean.

Sir Chris talked about how simple things like how taking their own pillow and mattresses with them everywhere meant that they felt more ‘at home’ in hotels and so their sleep was improved.  Then there were more technical aspects such as the infamous ‘hot pants’ the cyclists wore before the start of a race to keep their leg muscles at the optimum temperature between the warm up and race start.  All these things, along with many others served to make the difference between winning and losing.

I think what is interesting about this philosophy is that it applies as much to the business of procurement as it does to sport.  If, as a bursar, you and your team are at the peak of your purchasing performance, you’re not to be making large sweeping reductions in your costs.  However, a small percentage reduction here or there will soon add up to reasonable sums – the aggregation of marginal gains.

We often find that school bursars haven’t the time to look at those spend categories that are lower down the P&L but, by missing them out, you are potentially losing out on reasonable reductions in your expenditure.

Think about that over the coming weeks and months and see what a difference it makes to your school.



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