One Percent

From the Headmaster's Desk, January 29, 2018

I’ve spoken before to the School about the importance of marginal gains.  By this I mean making small improvements to ensure that overall, as individuals and collectively, we make great strides.

Improvement in school, or indeed other aspects of life, being it learning to paint, playing the bassoon or making shots in netball, is not normally about big moments.  It is about continuous improvement at every opportunity, and compounding all these small improvements leads to remarkable progression overall.

Sometimes this is called incrementalism: making incremental improvements, one at a time, to have large gains over time.

This idea of marginal gains has been made famous through Formula 1 or indeed with British cycling.  In both of these sports, the margins are extremely close, and tiny adjustments to the car in F1 or to the bike in cycling can make all the difference over the course of a race.  It makes sense if you think about it: drag theory, or studying air resistance, tells you that resistance is velocity squared.  This means that drag or resistance increases exponentially as speed increases.  So in cycling or F1, where you are travelling at high speeds, the smallest adjustment that reduces drag at the higher race speeds can lead to large margins of victory.

This month, I came across another explanation of marginal gains that I wanted to share with all of you.

What would happen if you put in just 1% more effort every day for a year?

1.01^365 = ?

This is the equation.  If one represents your current person, and the .01 is the 1% improvement, and if you do this every day for 365 days, then you end up with . . .

1.01^365 = 37.78

How can 1.01 times 1.01 lead eventually to over 37?  It seems extraordinary.  Let’s have Mr Shuttlworth, our Head of Maths, confirm this with a calculator right now.

(Mr Shuttleworth confirms that the answer is correct.)

So 1.01^365 is actually equal to 37.78.  This means that in Maths, if a pupil works just 1% harder every day for a year, at the end of the year they will be almost 38 times better at Maths.

As for headmasters, if I do my job just 1% better every day, then a year from now I will be doing the work of almost 38 headmasters in one day.

Mr Shuttleworth and I next want to see what happens if you give 1% less every day:

0.99^365 = 0.02

This is worrying.  Giving just 1% less every day means that over a year you end up with just 2% of yourself left.  Exponential decline is terrifying to consider.

The point is this:

Every day you make choices – little choices, about how you will manage your time.  Will you eat well?  Will you ensure that you get enough sleep?

Do you work just a little bit harder, in revision for school?  In practice for sport or music or drama or public speaking?  Do you prioritise your time and ensure you do not waste too much of it on social media or video games?

Our daily decisions compound over time and make us better off – or indeed worse off.  This is a message worth all of us remembering, particularly if you’ve got a public exam this year.

Make good decisions every day, little marginal gains, and the improvement over time will help you to achieve extraordinary things.

Have a great week.

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