“If you define the problem correctly you will almost have the solution” —Steve Jobs
Tim Ferris’ first job out of college was in data storage sales. It wasn’t going particularly well.
He soon became the companies top salesperson, by solving one simple problem.
He used a creative thinking strategy called Slice and Dice.
First, he defined the problem. This is always the most important part of any creative solution.
He listed out his whole sales process in minute detail. Then he systematically went through all the tiny elements to see what he could do to solve the problem.
Ferris’ analysis discovered the problem wasn’t his pitch, his closing, the product, or even the price.
The problem was he wasn’t getting hold of enough prospects in order to pitch.
The question was why?
The answer was the prospect’s secretaries were blocking his calls.
How did Ferris resolve it?
He called out of business hours when the secretaries weren’t there.
This simple solution increased Tim's sales by 90%.
How to Rule the World with Creative Strategy
In 2002, British cyclists had only won one gold medal in the previous 76 years, and no British cyclist had ever won the Tour de France in 110 years of trying.
Things were so bad one of the top European cycling brands refused to sell bikes to the British as they were concerned it would be a bad look for their company.
Then things changed. Dave Brailsford was the new Performance Director. He relentlessly believed in the aggregated marginal gains strategy.
Brailsford said, “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 improve it by 1 percent, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.”
If you’re one of the 5 million people who has read James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, you will recall this story from chapter one.
What Atomic Habits doesn’t do is break down the full strategy Dave Brailsford executed to disrupt professional cycling and become the most successful sports team in the world.
British cycling used the slice and dice framework.
“What was great was we weren’t held back by conventional wisdom. We just had a starting point and a load of funding. We’re going to use science, technology, and creativity to improve performance to be the best it can be.” — Sir Dave Brailsford
The goals were clear, the British aimed to have a clean rider win the Tour de France within 5 years.
British Cycling will become the most successful Olympic team in the world by 2012.
Dave Brailsford announced this to the world and was somewhat predictably ridiculed by the French, Italians, and the Spanish.
What actually happened? They won the Tour de France twice in 4 years with two different British riders.
In 2008 and 2012 the British Cycling team won 70% of all the Gold Medals and broke multiple world records. They became the most successful Olympic team in the world
And this is how they did it and how you can apply the same strategy to your business.
Brailsford has always stuck to the 3 key principles to seek sustained success.
- The overall strategy
- People: The potential of the human mind to perform at its best
- The aggregation of marginal gains
Most of what you have read before only focuses on the third part, but in order for any strategy to be successful all the key principles must work in unison, leveraging each other to achieve optimum performance levels.
One element in isolation will not have the same impact.
This is true in sports and business
Step 1 —The Challenge Statement
The first step to any successful strategy is to remove personal, self-facing, outcomes and seek ways to provide more value to the market in a unique way.
This was Dave Brailsford’s challenge statement.
“ How might I help the coaches help the riders be brilliant and become the best they can be? What environment can I create to increase the opportunity and frequency of wins?”
Step 2 - Deep Situational Analysis ( Slice and Dice)
“Strategy always begins with us analysing the demand of events. What is it going to take to win? It’s a phrase we use a lot! And we spend hours, and hours and hours identifying and breaking it down into minute detail. When and only when we have done that will we start to put a strategy into place” — Sir Dave Brailsford
What will it take for you to win? Break down everything you need to do in order to provide the market more value than your competitors — work out how to improve each element and become the best in class.
Step 2 — The Audit
This is where you assess your strengths and weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
This tells you exactly where you are. You already know where you want to get to from step 1.
“Have we got a bridgeable gap? That analysis of the bridgeable gap and how we can breach it is the fundamentals of our strategy” — Sir Dave Brailsford
Step 4 - The Human Mind
Why is this so important? Well, humans more often than not perform below their skill set.
Because there’s a conversation between the limbic system (emotional monkey brain) and our frontal lobes. We exist in our frontal lobe. It controls impulses and considers consequences, whereas the limbic system is run on pure emotion.
The Parietal lobe is basically a computer with all our beliefs, values, learned skills, and motor neuron behaviors.
“In order to achieve optimal human performance, you run the parietal lobe (computer) without your limbic system (monkey brain) and your frontal lobe activated.”
Dave and his team created a program based on ownership management theory to create an environment of optimal performance within their staff and riders.
Give committed people ownership and responsibility and they will achieve excellence
In all sports, the coaching management style is based on dictate and control.
Most companies are run in the same manner. They dictate strategy and control to their teams.
Dave Brailsford felt this was wrong. Dictating and controlling riders was only going to agitate their money brains and they wouldn’t be as motivated or have the tools to achieve optimal performance.
They gave the riders and team ownership. Everybody was expected to have opinions on their training and development.
They encouraged a diversity of thinking. They try and work with a collective opinion where possible. Giving the riders ownership and responsibility for their training and development generated extremely high levels of intrinsic motivation and performance.
You can achieve the same within your team.
Aggregated marginal gains ( Slice and Dice)
At the start of the process, Brailsford and his coaches had broken down exactly what they needed to do in order to win in minute detail.
Now they started making those tiny changes to improve every minute element to be 1% better. Changes that on their own seem irrelevant or even silly but when combined the sum of the parts creates an environment that allowed Team Sky to disrupt competitive cycling and gain a competitive advantage.
Some of Team Sky’s Marginal Gains
- They made the bike seats more comfortable.
- They rubbed alcohol onto the tyres to get more grip.
- Riders wore heat pads under their shorts to keep their muscles at the optimum temperature.
- They tested massage gels for the fastest recovery times.
- Hand sanitisers placed everywhere to minimise the risk of colds
- They toured with the rider’s mattresses and pillows so the sleeping environment was consistent.
- They painted the inside of trucks white to spot any dust on the bikes that could slow the rider down by even a fraction.
This is the level of detail you need to bring to your business if you want to be the best in class. Break down your customer’s journey and each touchpoint into minute detail.
How can you improve the product or service to make your customer’s experience better?
How might you create more value for your customers in a unique way?
When everyone in the team is consistently looking to improve every tiny detail it is an incredibly positive environment to work in that encourages everyone to perform at their absolute best. ” — Chris Froome, 4 x winner of Tour de France and 2 x Gold Olympic medal winner.
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Do the following steps to create a winning strategy that will give you a competitive advantage.
- Create a challenge statement
- Deep situational analysis ( Slice and Dice)
What does it take to win? How can give the most value in your segment?
Write out your whole process in minute detail and analyse every tiny detail on how you can improve the experience for your customers with your product or service.
Brainstorm a list of customer friction points and invert them to create solutions to even the tiniest of problems. Remember it’s the combined marginal gains that make a big difference.
This gives you the end game
- Do An Audit
Create a SWOT analysis of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This tells where you are now and the bridgeable gap of where you want to go.
Use the gap to build your precise strategy.
- Create An Innovation Culture (C.O.R.E)
Get your team to co-create projects and strategies. Give them co-ownership and responsibility for strategic vision within reason. Make them feel truly part of the future of the company.
Use innovation frameworks and brainstorming sessions to create new solutions and products that will serve your customers better.
Solve new problems. Or solve the same old problems, differently.
This will generate high levels of intrinsic motivation and commitment within your team to excel.
“Committed teams who are given ownership and responsibility will achieve excellence.” — Sir Dave Brailsford
- Execute Aggregated Marginal Gains
In Japanese culture, they call it Kaizen. It’s also called the Toyota way as continuous improvement was one of the key strategies Toyota executed to become the second biggest car manufacturer on the planet.
Return to your list and execute your aggregated marginal gains strategy.
The strategy is not to achieve operational excellence. Being the best is not a strategy.
The strategy is to create unique value for the market in a unique way and deliver with operational excellence.
Do all this and you will become the best in class. Your customers will be delighted and create word of mouth.
You will disrupt your market segment and gain a competitive advantage.
This is a big job. It’s a fairly large time commitment.
But being the uniquely best at what you do was never going to be easy.
It takes strategy and execution.
PDF cheat sheet here
A bit about me
I created strategies for artists who sold millions.
I now work with founders and CEOs to power growth and gain a competitive advantage with disruptive creative strategies.