Organisations need to strike a balance between striving to make marginal improvements to their products and experimenting with radical, risky ideas, says Tim Harford, The Undercover Economist, speaking at Wired 2012.
He described the small improvements that a man called Matt Parker made to the British cycling team to achieve Olympic success. Parker, who is "Head of Marginal Gains" at British cycling, told cyclists to constantly wash their hands to avoid the cauldron of pathogens at the Olympic Games. He also told them not to take any Olympic buses for that reason, to bring their favourite pillow to optimise sleep, and to focus intensely on the golden hour -- the hour of recovery between the semi-final and final. He also invented hot pants to keep athletes' muscles warm and would rub alcohol on the wheels of the bike to remove a tiny layer of dust and grim for aerodynamic improvements.
As a result, the British team won seven gold medals in cycling. The rest of the world won just three. As a result of the attention paid to athletes during the golden hour, in sprint events, every British cyclist went faster in the final than they did in the semi-final.
ABOUT WIRED WIRED brings you the future as it happens - the people, the trends, the big ideas that will change our lives. An award-winning printed monthly and online publication. WIRED is an agenda-setting magazine offering brain food on a wide range of topics, from science, technology and business to pop-culture and politics.