My response to the James Clear 1% improvement article

James Clear 1% improvement article explored

Tour De France

Tour De France

The respected writer and performance writer , James Clear wrote an article about Dave Brailsford.

Dave Brailsford faced a challenge as the new General Manager and Performance Director for Team Sky - The Great British professional cycling team.

Within the article, James Clear explained how Brailsford adopted a simple approach of what he refers to as "aggregation of marginal gains" and "the 1 percent margin for improvement in everything you do". 

Japanese worker

Japanese worker

The message in the article caught my eye and I recognized the approach taken as using “Kaizen”.

Kaizen has been in use in a systematic manner since the Second World War.

The concept was born after American influence in improving the production and quality facilities across Japan. The system has been rolled out mainly in the areas of manufacturing and now seeing continued growth across all sectors of industry, business and state administration.

Kaizen is Japanese for the word “improvement” and is a philosophy to seek improvements, no matter how small or large in everything that you do. The article written by James Clear does a great job at demonstrating how a 1% improvement in tiny areas would provide significant compound benefits for the long term.

Bradley Higgins

Bradley Higgins

The success story shared in James Clear’s article describes that the team produced the very first British cyclist to win the Tour de France with Sir Bradley Wiggins (Sir was given after he won).

The claim in the article is that the team became the most successful in modern cycling history supported by the win with Chris Froome at the Tour de France in 2013.

I exchanged a couple of Twitter messages with James Clear to understand if Kaizen was an understood concept by him. See below our Twitter engagement.

Twitter Exchange with James Clear and JAMSO

What James Clear does not state, is any direct correlation of thought in his article to present the 1% improvement concept as a new story telling way to introduce Kaizen to people unfamiliar with its design and principles.

  • The purpose of this article is to help you understand some important missed lessons that can help readers understand and apply these small changes in life and business.

The key to Kaizen, understands that improvement is continual and never ending. Although Kaizen is connected to small improvements it is open to making large improvements also. Indeed the concept is to introduce continual and significant sustained positive change.

The compound effect of improvement is the very basic principle of many pension fund investments. Over the first few years of saving, small improvements to your wealth are generated, then over time the benefits of dividend payment re-investments, improvements in markets and constant fine tuning of your investment portfolio produces outstanding effects.

The below chart offers an improved insight to the principles of compound improvement based on the frequency. The message is clear, small daily improvements have a significant improvement and impact over time than periodic intervals of improvement.

Compound growth

Compound growth


James Clear, in his article highlights the correct message to also be aware of compound effect on the decline of performance over time. This is seen by many middle aged people. In their teens and twenties they had been very healthy but started to slow down their activity levels, then in their 40’s they look at the mirror and realize the effect of lack of their own health care.

The Key Steps for Kaizen introduction to business and life.

Strong Personal Discipline

Habit forming through strong personal discipline is a corner stone of continual improvement. Ensuring that improvement is important and a continual high priority helps the participants of improvement commit to change and become part of their personal or business culture.

Key Take Away: Set time each day to ensure improvements are implemented.

Never stop seeking improvement

Rolls Royce

Rolls Royce

The very best products in the world require evolution, development and innovation. A Rolls Royce is known as the highest quality in the world and yet their product has developed in design, style, technology and comfort through its continual journey to provide the best driving experience for its owners, driver and passengers. The same applies to people and business; there should be a commitment to continual learning to gain improvements in every area of performance.

Modern Rolls Royce

Modern Rolls Royce

 Key Take Away: Commit to ongoing development and learning by investing in change.

TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More

The story shared by James Clear highlights how Dave Brailsford sought help and improvement in every touch-point and interaction. He shares how small details such as pillow selection contributed to bottom line performance. This can only be achieved through the design of great research questions and communication with his team surroundings.

MotoGP prototype engine

MotoGP prototype engine

I share a passion for MotoGP racing and in this sport it highlights just how significant the difference of small changes within a team can impact the end result.

A change of training regime and personalized brake lever adjustments may improve a riders performance by 0.1 second per lap over a 4km circuit, however when viewed over 25 laps this totals to a 2.5 second difference. Those 2.5 seconds can be the difference between several race positions in any race.

Key Take Away: Seeking unique insights and change can create significant permanent improvements.

Additional benefits of Kaizen

When you are met with new challenges and hurdles, the daily habit and discipline from Kaizen helps you discover rapid solutions. Your skills, experiences and knowledge of problem solving can help in business and personal life challenges.

Confidence from continual success that is experienced from continual improvement is a great additional benefit from adopting Kaizen principles.

Moving Beyond Kaizen

Kaizen provides the discipline, purpose and direction yet falls short of a specific system to implement improvement in a fixed model format beyond those explained already. This is why Kaizen is often associated within the improvement world of Lean thinking.

Lean has taken the startup world by storm and has also been applied across many areas of education and industry. Part of the thinking includes a model called 5S.

5S model

5S model

The 5S model was created by Hiroyuki Hirano to help manufacturing systems. The principles have been adopted and implemented throughout the world helping improve efficiency and improvements since the 50’s. The system has been used with many familiar global brands including Toyota, HP, Boeing, IBM and Honda.

Although Kaizen and 5S holds origins in Japan the simplicity of the systems mean they have been adopted across many cultures across the world. The applications of these systems has a much lower adoption rate in the personal development world however this is exactly a perfect example where the lessons and benefits in business can be used in our private lives with rapid benefits.

The 5 S are:


Clean desk policy

Clean desk policy

To identify areas of improvement, one key aspect is to maximize the efficiency of a process.

Through waste reduction benefits are generated that provide improved performance.

The Sort phase is to understand a process by mapping its clear steps and making them in order. This can be a work desk which has too many none used items on it and then cleaned to have the minimal tools required for the job. In daily life this could be cleaning out your garage to retain only the items you use on a frequent basis.

Sorting frequency

Sorting frequency

Special Note: A frequent question is what should be done with the items used less frequently but still required on a periodic basis. Please see the chart to act as a guide solution.




Lay out all your items in a way that make them easy for access whenever they are required. For instance if you have a health goal, ensure your running clothes are ready to hand or your rowing machine does not need to be moved before it’s use.




Cleaning and shine

Cleaning and shine

Cleanliness is important to generate pride and clarity. This step concentrates on generating clear optimal space.

After this step it becomes easy to spot when things are broken, missing, wearing out and provide new insights as to why you have the item in the first place.



Coding standards

Coding standards

This is arguably the most important part of the 5S process. Through the creation of minimum standards and practices you introduce a methodology of quality control and measurable base line figures.


Sustained performance

Sustained performance

The discipline lessons from Kaizen are supported through the final S step of sustaining the process of review and performance.

This is step that identifies the benefits generated to-date,


Question for the reader: What parts of your business or personal life could benefit from a 5S review?

JAMSO Bonus help to identify wasted areas, use the DOWNTIME system:

  • Defects and reworking in life and work

  • Over production or over doing a task to a wasteful level

  • Waiting time between tasks or events

  • Not utilizing the full talents available

  • Transportation and double handling of items or journey purpose

  • Inventory, the frequency to replace items and thus the time and money spent doing it

  • Movement and motion of items, information and peoples motivations

  • Excessive processing of a task or information.

The extensive applications of 5S thinking are witnessed across the globe from operating theatres to space stations and administrative offices. The principles can be applied in many areas of personal life with frequent applications such as bathrooms, kitchens and garages as being the most common.

Before and After

Before and After

A key tool used within 5S process improvement is the impact of visual comparisons.

This can be a simple photograph image comparison an obvious before and after image or a similar visual representation of a process chart. The benefits are often visually striking and help retain motivation for continued improvement.

Reader Challenge: Review your place or work/study or part of your private life and use these principle steps to apply a real change for your benefit.

James Clear writes great simple articles that has attracted a wide appeal and audience.

I saw in this specific case that it has been worthy to support his article with a deeper dive so the readers can benefit from not only a great story and simplified message but also with some clear science proven systemic process steps to implement to make use from.

The benefits of Kaizen and 5S go beyond seeking small step improvements as mentioned in the original James Clear article. These tools help fine tune highly developed performance and also allow for significant innovation to increase performance at higher levels with speedy implementation.

The Finech Process

The Finech Process

A startup business or entrepreneur seeking to disrupt an industry can use these methods to identify new opportunities in a market place.

We have seen this in recent years from the increased applications and use of mobile payment systems and other service providers bringing in more efficient models to the banking and finance industry through what is defined as the Fintech sector. This sector is bringing a new lean business culture and a focus on waste reduction to an industry that has become slower and less efficient over the past 20 years.

Question for the reader: What industry do you think could enjoy these improvement models?

There are many different goal setting and performance improvement systems so please use this reading as a base start point before exploring others that will match your needs and personality or business culture.

-                  By James Doyle Founder of JAMSO.

James Doyle - JAMSO Chief Response Officer

James Doyle - JAMSO Chief Response Officer

At JAMSO, we help people and business transform results and performance. We help in the specific areas of goal setting, goal management, performance management, metrics, analytics and personal development.

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Further Reading and Reference



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