The 1% Growth Theory

We all want to better ourselves. It’s a natural progression of learning and evolving; of being human. Times have been tough for most over the last few months and we are all wondering about how we go from where we are now, to either we were or where we want to be moving forward. You might set big goals that are scary and overwhelming and think you need to be taking huge leaps and bounds to make that goal a reality. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. 

We are talking about a 1% growth. John Wooden, legendary US basketball coach was quoted as saying “When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur.” He was focused on achieving growth at 1% at a time. He would sit down with his players and ask them “Can you give me 1% more?” They would always say yes even though they were elite athletes, already at the top of their game. And then he would ask them, “What is that 1%? What does that one thing you can do differently?” His team would then hold onto that one thing, they would focus their time and energy on improving it by 1% each day. 

“Habits don’t change in a day, but 1% a day makes every habit work.”

James Altucher

Case Study: How Small Improvements Make a Huge Difference


An incredible example of small efforts accumulating to significant changes is what Dave Brailsford did for British Cycling. Before his appointment as Performance Director in 2003, British Cycling was suffering through years of mediocrity and underwhelming performances, and he was dedicated to pushing onto a new trajectory. 

He referred to his strategy as “the aggregation of marginal gains”, the philosophy of searching for a tiny margin of improvement in all that you do. “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”, Brailsford said. 

The small changes Brailsford made included:

  • Making bike seats more comfortable 
  • Used biofeedback sensors to monitor how athletes responded to particular workouts 
  • Tested various fabrics in wind tunnels 
  • Tested different types of massage gels to see which led to the quickest muscle recovery 
  • Determined the best pillow and mattress for the best night sleep for each athlete 
  • Painted the insides of trucks white to help spot dust specks that would degrade bike performance

Brailsford and his team worked tirelessly and continued to find 1% improvements in every area, including those least expected. As these minor adjustments plus a multitude of others accumulated, the results were incredibly profound.

His theory was proved 5 years later when the British Cycling team dominated at the 2008 Olympics where they won 60% of gold medals. Then later, setting world records and taking home even more gold at the Olympics. 

So, how can you replicate this approach in your own life, to achieve such remarkable and unexpected results?

Continuous improvement 

Continuous improvement is a dedication to making small changes and improvements every day, with the expectation that those small improvements will add up to something significant. (source)

Focusing on a big goal and taking big steps forward can often lead to burnout, frustration, impatience and a potential resentment for the process. We are told that massive success requires massive actions. This is not necessarily the case. 

It’s easy to reject the notion of a little bit everyday will make the biggest improvements, but this is how change happens. This is where the habits are formed. This is how you achieve that big, formidable goal. Yes, 1% improvements aren’t going to make headlines and aren’t going to show the biggest results immediately, but they become more meaningful in the long run. 

How it works 

In the early stages of creating these habits, there will be no obvious improvements or declines and it won’t impact you that much on a single day. However, as you continually get 1% better each day, by making decisions, you will find it compounds over time and these small improvements will be substantial. These little things add up over the long-term, which is why it’s incredibly important to realise the benefits and start implementing the 1% growth method now. 

If you get one percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done. (source

How to get started 

First, we need to decide what we can improve on. What is that one thing that will help you get to where you want to be, and can you improve it by 1% every day? Break down each goal into smaller goals and focus on what you need to do to achieve them. Be specific and analytical in your approach. Then focus your energy on achieving that. Make the commitment and dedicate the time to do it. 

Yes, we all have other things to do, but if we make sure that part of our day is moving us forward on that one thing, then we are in a better position compared to yesterday. And once we complete them, we start the whole process again. We go back to our intent vision, and then we think about where we are, and decide upon what is the next one thing? What is the next 1% that we must grow? 

It’s all about growing and improving 1% at a time. What are you going to focus on improving?


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