There is a pervasive lie in the business community that we must beat to a pulp, expose, and debunk. Here it is:

To experience huge success, put in 1% more effort. This small incremental change will produce exponential results!

Our culture loves the idea of finisher medals, trophies for Little League losers, and awarding improvement. That’s fine for Little League tournaments, but extremely dangerous for a business.

While the idea of only giving something a little more effort to achieve results is quite appealing, it is a bold-faced lie. Don’t believe it. The problem is you aren’t competing with yourself. You are competing with the free market and the best companies in the world. 

Measuring your performance against your own past performance makes the assumption that you are operating in a closed ecosystem and only competing with yourself. In reality, the free market is brutal and there are other companies that are likely outperforming you by a gigantic margin.

A slightly better version of yourself is only a good thing if you are already the best or striving to become the best with many incremental changes.

However, if you slightly tweak the false statement above, it is foundational and 100% true. The following is absolutely true:

To experience huge failure, underperform your best competition by 1%. This small failure will produce catastrophic results.

This news is depressing. Here we were thinking that with just a tiny bit of effort, one small and incremental change was the secret to our success. The lie is appealing. But, if you actually apply real life use cases, it is clearly a lie.

100% + 1% ≠Success

  • A presidential primary candidate is in last place out of eight candidates and is only garnering 1% of the available votes – a 1% incremental improvement will only produce a total of 1.01% of the vote. This small improvement will ensure a handy loss come Super Tuesday.
  • A travel startup is operating at an unsustainable cash burn rate of $2M per month and will exhaust their recent Series C funding round in sixty days. A 1% improvement in the unsustainable budget will result in them going out of business 5 hours later – not exactly an ideal result.
  • A 42 year-old man has saved nothing for retirement, but decides to do 1% better. He is now saving $30 per month (1% of his income). He won’t ever be able to retire.
  • A Hilton Hotel is performing extremely poorly due to being over-priced by $50 per night compared to the equivalent Marriott Hotel. They lower prices by $0.50 (1% improvement from previous over-priced position) and continue to lose 100% of bookings to Marriott.
  • A father of two kids works every weekend and wants to be a better dad. He commits to do 1% better and now he spends time with his family one weekend every two years. His family still feels neglected and this isn’t any better.

If we apply a little bit of logic, we can see what we actually need to do. Consider a swimming pool filled with algae – a 1% increase in chlorine will have zero impact. In fact, the only way to regain control of your pool and enjoy summer days with crystal clear waters is a big change.

algae filled swimming pool

To eliminate the algae, you may need to “shock” your pool with 5-10 pounds of chlorine. This is more than double the amount of chlorine that is already in the water. Oftentimes, if the pool is completely out of control, you may have to shock it more than once.

I love the term shock. If our personal lives or business is struggling, it is not unlike a pool filled with algae – we need to shock it. A small 1% change will produce lackluster (or no) results.

What area do you or your business need to improve in? How do you plan to up your game 100% and produce the shock that is necessary to produce positive results?

The news that this is going to take considerable effort is likely unwelcome. However, you can use it to your advantage. In the real world, the following statement is an absolute truth:

The individual or company that does 1% better than the most formidable competition will oftentimes achieve 100% of the benefit.

Examples of Winning By 1% & the Benefits

  • A presidential candidate that wins the swing state by one vote is the president. The loser does not receive 49.999% of the power – they receive none.
  • When the clock runs out, the Superbowl team with one more point is the world champion. The losing team is not a co-champion or receive a slightly smaller ring.
  • If two identical houses are listed for sale, the one that is priced 1% lower than the other will sell first. None of the proceeds go to the runner-up.

If doing a tiny bit better isn’t good enough in the harsh reality of the free market, what do we do? I’m glad you asked.

  1. Identify your supreme competition and most formidable opponents.
  2. Determine the reasons for the most significant areas in which they are out-performing you.
  3. Understand the metrics that equal 1% greater than their current position.
  4. Evaluate if there is a time-sensitivity element where 101% is worthless on some future date.
  5. Hustle and grind until your effort produces 101% in each area.

Now, hopefully we understand that singing Kumbaya with tiny biz changes won’t be enough. I challenge you to implement and succeed with the above formula!