.001 Seconds Do Matter. . .Sometimes

It seems that Bode Miller, one of the winningest downhill skiers of all-time, is focusing on becoming a thoroughbred race horse trainer.  In making the transition from ski slopes to horses, Bode made an interesting observation.   To his mind, the field of horse racing is not as technologically-advanced as skiing.  And Bode understands technology and gaining a technical edge wherever possible.  At the Olympics in Sochi, he replaced a rubber goggle strap with a plastic strap because his research suggested it would decrease his time by .001 seconds.  He happened to take the bronze medal by .001 seconds.

So, doing the research and looking for the small tweaks that provide an edge are important aspects of top performance.  For instance, other world-class athletes such as swimmers and runners will shave their bodies to decrease their times.  And the research suggests it helps – in some cases dramatically.  Who would think that a little leg hair would be the difference between winning and losing!

But, here’s the caveat:  the small tweaks that provide .001 or less of an advantage are only really helpful once all of the foundational and underlying basic skills are mastered.  In other words, there is little use for a recreational skier who wishes to go faster down the hill to change her goggle strap from rubber to plastic like Bode Miller did.  Instead, if she wants to decrease her time, she should work on mastering how to get consistently in and out of her turns faster and more efficiently.  Mastering the fundamental skills of skiing will decrease her time far more rapidly than will adjusting her wardrobe.

The concept at play here, of course, is the Law of Diminishing Returns:

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This law states that 20% of the effort will yield 80% of the results.  The final 20% of the results comes from small tweaks that can take a lot of time, energy, and money.  So, for instance, Bode Miller, took the time and spent the money to figure out that rubber straps decreased his speed and increased his time.  That’s a lot of effort for a .001 second reduction in time.  But for the elite in any field, the reward is worth it because they already have mastered the fundamentals.

The problem comes when people want to skip the basic underlying fundamentals that make up the first 80% of success and jump right to the small tweaks, or “silver bullets,” that they believe will drive success.  But as it turns out, all success really is built on mastering the fundamentals and consistently performing them.  So, today, ask yourself and your team, are we doing the advancement fundamentals consistently well?   Have we mastered them?  For instance:

  • Are we training our student phonathon callers thoroughly enough?
  • Are our major gift officers making enough calls to secure enough visits?
  • Are our institution’s leaders fully living into the strategic plan by holding up our aspirations regularly?
  • Are we practicing the best approaches with our direct response efforts?
  • Are we engaging our Board appropriately in our work?
  • Are we providing the kind of leadership to our volunteers that energizes them and makes them want to do the work that needs to be done?

These questions – and others like them – represent some of the advancement fundamentals that need to be mastered and consistently practiced if we are to be successful.  If we aren’t working each day to master these skill sets and activities, it won’t matter that we’ve added a new module to our database that allows us to track event attendance.  Master the big foundational skill sets first and, then, the little tweaks that make you .001 seconds faster will matter.

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