The Secret to huge improvements...

By Luke McKenna

Legendary basketball coach John Wooden once said “you have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better. By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better.”

The secret to huge improvements is- there is no secret (if there is, I sure havn't found it yet). Huge improvements don’t happen over a day, week, month or even a year. They take time.

I often explain to students that they need to make sure that they are a little bit better when they leave school each day, than when they walked in. We accumulate our improvements over time, which ensures we keep growing as a human being and as a learner.

We’re going to take a look at two real world examples here:

Kaizen- Toyota

Continuous improvement, or “kaizen”, involves a focus on tiny, incremental changes over a period of time. These tiny incremental changes eventually have significant impacts.

“Kaizen” took car manufacturer Toyota, and the Japanese car industry, from having a very poor global reputation, to being one of the world’s leading car manufacturers over a period of ten years. They did this by making tiny improvements in work efficiency, such as moving a bin on a production line by one metre. It has been said that Toyota engineers collectively come up with approximately 1,000,000 tiny improvements to the car manufacturing process every year.

Aggregation of marginal gains- Team Sky

In 2010, Dave Brailsford took over as General Manager and Performance Director for Team Sky (Great Britain’s professional cycling team). At that time, no British cyclist had ever won the Tour de France. Brailsford had a plan to change that. He suggested that by improving everything the team did by just one percent, they would make a remarkable improvement. He believed that if his plan worked, they would achieve the goal of winning the Tour de France in five years’ time.

So they optimised everything they could – at first focusing on diet, then the training program then the bike seat and then the tyres. They improved each of these elements by just one percent. “But Brailsford and his team didn’t stop there. They searched for 1 percent improvements in tiny areas that were overlooked by almost everyone else: discovering the pillow that offered the best sleep and taking it with them to hotels, testing for the most effective type of massage gel, and teaching riders the best way to wash their hands to avoid infection. They searched for 1 percent improvements everywhere.” (Clear, 2014)

They worked towards winning the Tour de France in five years. However, by making very small incremental improvements that others overlooked, they achieved their goal in only three years. In the same year (2012), the British cycling team won 70 percent of the Olympic cycling gold medals. They followed this up by winning the Tour de France the next year as well. Team Sky have now won four out of the last five Tour de France races under Dave Brailsford!


Most people who have achieved great things have identified small improvements that others have overlooked, and made them over a long period of time. Their progress (beyond the norm) may have been very slow at first, but after a period of time they become high achievers in their field. Results, and the accomplishment of our goals, flow from the life we live on a daily basis.

Remind students not to expect huge improvements right away- just begin with the end in mind, and do what you can to keep moving forward. If they expect huge improvements and they don't get them- they might find it a little harder to stick with it.

Can you find a “1%er” today in your life? Are you still on a journey of kaizen (continuous improvement) in your relationships, work, health or other areas of your life?

Jim Rohn stated that “success is a few simple disciplines, practised every day; while failure is simply a few errors in judgment, repeated every day.”—Jim Rohn

Good luck on the long, slow journey of continuous improvement!