Controlling the controllables


At the Athens Olympics, GB won 2 gold medals – Sir Chris Hoy in the Kilo, and Sir Bradley Wiggins in the Individual Pursuit. Fast forward four years to Beijing, and Team GB won 8 cycling golds, with the first being a memorable win from Nicole Cooke in the Ladies Road Race.

It was repeated again at the London Games in 2012. In 8 short years GB Cycling had gone from nowhere to the best cycling nation in the world. We’d do it AGAIN at Rio 2016. So what was the secret?

Dave Brailsford became Performance Director at British Cycling in 2003, taking over from Peter Keen who’d begun the revolution back in 1997. Brailsford has become famous for his ‘marginal gains’ approach –

“The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.”

However, there’s another principal that Brailsford adopted that’s had less airtime, but which has been just as important in our rise to the top of the cycling world. It became known as ‘controlling the controllables‘.

Cycling is a tough sport. Possibly the hardest sport in the world. While footballers play for 90 minutes, once, maybe twice in a week, cyclists in a Grand Tour like the Tour de France race for up to 6 hours a day for 21 days. Brutal.

In bike racing, particularly on the road, there are many factors outwith your control. You can’t do anything about them, so Brailsford’s approach was not to worry about them. Instead he focused all of his energy on the things he could control – the riders training, equipment, nutrition, clothing, their recovery and so on. This is where the ‘marginal gains’ approach came from.

When it comes to business, then we can also spend lots of time worrying about things out of our control. That’s wasted energy that could be better spent focused on the things we can control. Those will be different for each of us, but should probably include the people we hire, the way we look after them, our customer experience, the way we communicate.

What are the controllables for your business?

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