The rule of 1%: Three (3) ways to drive progress in business and career


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Striving to attain perfection at once could drain all your energy and get you discouraged where the desired results aren’t achieved fast enough. What do you do then? It is simple. Experts advice taking one step at a time, checking for feedback and adapting the journey. This approach can lead to massive gains when working to acquire new skills, enhance performance and refine one’s talent. This is the rule of 1%.

The one-step-at-a-time rule forms the core of behavioural psychology. This segment of psychology deals with the systemic learning of new behaviours. It also deals with needful recourse to small incremental improvement of any observable areas of personal weakness. Take, for instance, a child that is learning to walk. The child first learns to crawl. He or she soon graduates to leaning objects to support itself by holding on to fixed frames such as chairs and tables while rising to take small feeble steps. 

The 1% rule has helped top athletes in their pursuit of excellent performance. It has also helped top business managers scale their business portfolios to reach a higher margin in terms of market returns and market shares.

If this process continues over some time the child’s feet adapt to the landscape as his or her muscle strengthens gradually to make a more audacious move.

The 1% rule has helped top athletes in their pursuit of excellent performance. It has also helped top business managers scale their business portfolios to reach a higher margin in terms of market returns and market shares.

Aiming for the top at once can be killing. When adopted, the 1% rule makes attaining life’s success easier because it approaches the whole perfection process as a journey. But the journey must be seen as strategic – as a well-planned set of consistent actions spread over some time.

Jeff Hadden, an expert writer on Inc, put the 1% rule smartly. He wrote recently, that it is “Like focusing on making a small improvement to operational efficiencies when sales don’t even cover fixed costs. Or focusing on making small improvements to logistics and fulfilment when product quality consistently fails to meet the standard”.

Sir Dave Brailsford who trained the team that won Britain her first Tour De France Championship medals narrated how he adopted the incremental improvement strategy:

“By experimenting in a wind tunnel, we searched for small improvements to aerodynamics. By analyzing the mechanic’s area in the team truck, we discovered that dust was accumulating on the floor, undermining bike maintenance. So, we painted the floor white, to spot any impurities. We hired a surgeon to teach our athletes about proper hand-washing to avoid illnesses during competition. We were precise about food preparation. We brought our mattresses and pillows so our athletes could sleep in the same posture every night. We searched for small improvements everywhere and found countless opportunities. Taken together, we felt they gave us a competitive advantage.”

How do you then make the 1% rule work for you?

  1. Identify the success factors in your area of interest – What are those features or characteristics that make up top performance in your field of endeavour? If you are in business, what are those features that consumers desire to see in the products they patronize? Identify and itemize these features.
  2. Create a programme of action – Recall Sir Dave Brailsford’s approach of ‘analyzing the mechanic’s area in the team truck’ to discover that dust had accumulated to his cyclists’ team bike performance. The team went on to paint the floor white ‘to spot any impurities’. The spotting of the dust on the ‘mechanic’s floor’ was followed by an action. Therefore, after identifying your area of personal and business improvement you must be on to create a programme of action that must be consistently undertaken to bring about your desired improvement. If you are a salesperson that is performing below target you may simply add an extra day or hour to your sales pitch round. This may mean talking to one more customer each day. It may mean adding an extra area of a personal relationship with each targeted customer. Action, it is believed, brings about reactions that may turn out to be positive.
  3. Take feedback to adapt actions – The consistent performance of the chosen action steps is key to reaching timely maturation of the new behaviour. It is however important to key in feedback from observed personal or environment responses to one’s action steps such that the actions can be adapted where necessary with the objectives in sight.
Toyin Afilaka
Toyin Afilaka
Toyin Afilaka writes with simplicity and insight. He aims to enrich the Nigerian small business landscape. Through Hustle24 he connects entrepreneurs with information about new policies, enterprise solutions and opportunities that will aid their 'hustle'. He has written extensively for CobraReview, a product review portal, and served as a lead project manager for MarketingMix where he consulted as PR consultant for MTN Project Fame and Business Next Titan etc.


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