As humans we measure everything. From the day we are born we measure our weight and our height. All through school we measure how well we are learning via the grades that we get for each class. We measure one rugby team against another by the points on the scoreboard. We measure our success by how much we earn.
In my development years the gains came quickly. As a schoolboy athlete in grade 11 my 800 m time improved from 2:20 to 2:02. That is nearly 13% better over the course of a season. I was never fast enough to compete with the best in the athletics league but at my school that time was good enough for top 3. The improvement in my time did not take a great deal of effort at that age. I was growing fast and getting stronger by the day, and it seemed to come easy.
In 2015 I was recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon. While feeling sorry for myself I set some goals to get fit again. By late 2016 I able to run 5 km comfortably. One Saturday morning in November I did my first parkrun. 29 minutes was my time. That is 5:48/km.
A year later in December 2017, the same parkrun, 26 minutes. 5:11/km. 10% improvement. That was a year of sporadic running, and I was coming off a low base, so some improvement was expected. I was happy with that.
November 2019, back to the same parkrun. My time was 23:39. 4:44/km. 9% improvement over 2 years of consistent training and running a different parkrun every Saturday. Aah, the law of diminishing returns.
That inevitable point where despite tremendous effort the gains are marginal. Hence, the question posed in the title.
I use running as an analogy to demonstrate the point, but I am finding that this is relevant to other areas of my life. As an entrepreneur I spend a great deal of time exploring opportunities to grow my business. I regularly ask myself the question… “what do I need to do to move the needle?”
My ego is seeking the satisfaction of big gains. But I know it is the consistent achievement of small gains over time that results in exponential outcomes. A 1% improvement each day over 365 days produces a result that is 37 times greater. I don’t expect to do that in my running, but I am continuously exploring where I can get better every day.
Perhaps today’s “Just In Time” piece is 1% better than yesterday’s. I’ll take that.
Justin Spencer-Young @fastforwardjsy