"The Slight Edge," from Command Alkon CEO, Martin Willoughby

Martin Willoughby

In 2003, British Cycling's transformation began with Dave Brailsford and his strategy of "the aggregation of marginal gains," aiming for a 1% improvement in every aspect of cycling. Despite a history of mediocrity, this focus on small enhancements in everything from bike seats to hand washing techniques led to a remarkable accumulation of success. By 2012, British cyclists dominated the Olympic Games and achieved multiple Tour de France victories, showcasing the astonishing power of marginal gains. This philosophy, illustrating how minor improvements compound over time, underscores the profound impact of consistent, incremental progress. Whether in sports, business, or personal development, the aggregation of marginal gains demonstrates that success is often the result of small, daily decisions that, while seemingly insignificant alone, can lead to significant achievements over time.

The Power of Daily Disciplines

Similar to Brailsford’s philosophy, Jeff Olson in his bestselling book, The Slight Edge, champions the idea that small, consistent actions can lead to monumental results over time.  Olson draws a compelling parallel between the principles he outlines and the compounding effect of money, a concept familiar to many in the realm of investing and financial planning. Albert Einstein is said to have called compound interest "the eighth wonder of the world."  Einstein reportedly stated, "He who understands it, earns it; he who doesn't, pays it."  Olson explains how, just like the small, seemingly insignificant deposits made into a savings account can grow exponentially over time due to interest compounding,  the small daily actions we take can compound into significant life outcomes.

Embracing the Long-term View

Another key idea that Olson proposes is that we shift focus from immediate results to the horizon of long-term success. He suggests that the slight edge is "easy to do and easy NOT to do" and that its true power lies in the compound effect of small actions over time. This resonates with Jim Collins' concept of the "flywheel effect" in "Good to Great," where he describes how great companies build momentum slowly at first, then accelerate to greatness over time through consistent effort.  I strongly believe we are seeing that now with our company.

An inspiring example of this principle is the story of Howard Schultz and Starbucks. Schultz didn't just sell coffee; he sold an experience, a "third place" between work and home. Despite initial skepticism, his long-term vision for what Starbucks could become was unwavering. Through persistent effort and a commitment to quality and customer experience, Starbucks grew from a single store in Seattle to a global brand. We can learn from Schultz's vision and persistence, understanding that true success often comes from a steadfast commitment to a long-term vision.

The Attitude of Continuous Learning

The final key idea from "The Slight Edge" is the significance of maintaining a mindset of continuous learning and improvement. Olson highlights that the slight edge philosophy is not a one-time action but a way of life.  Brailsford’s team didn’t just make a few changes then stop.   Over the years, they made hundreds of small improvements that put them on top of the cycling world.   During the ten-year span from 2007 to 2017, British cyclists won 178 world championships and 66 Olympic or Paralympic gold medals and captured 5 Tour de France victories which many believe is the most successful run in cycling history.  


By embracing daily disciplines, adopting a long-term perspective, and maintaining a mindset of continuous learning, leaders at all levels can cultivate the slight edge that leads to significant achievements over time. These principles remind us that leadership is not just about the position one holds but about the small, consistent actions that drive progress and inspire those around us.  If we keep our focus and continually learn, grow, and look for small ways to get just 1% better, we will truly transform our companies and our industry as a whole. 

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