The rule of 1 percent – a business success strategy

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“In order to succeed in business and differentiate yourself from competitors, you do not have to be 1000% better at one thing; you have to be 1% better at 1000 things!” – Jan Carlzon

Jan Carlzon, former President of ailing Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) developed the Rule of 1 Percent strategy that would propel the airline to be the top performer in the world in virtually every aspect of business.These changes at SAS led to Air Transport World naming SAS ‘Airline of the Year’ 1983.

I am not a big fan of aiming to change or improve anything by 100 percent. This is often overwhelming and can result in failure. There is much evidence supporting the Rule of 1 Percent solution, otherwise known as ‘the aggregation of marginal gain’. These small gains add up to a remarkable overall improvement.

The Rule of 1 Percent

B-17 Bomber

Slight tweaks to the B-17 Bomber improved safety dramatically

In the 1940s, the aviation industry commissioned a psychologist to conduct an investigation into a series of inexplicable accidents involving B-17 bombers.

He discovered that the switches controlling the flaps in B-17s were identical to those controlling the landing gear, and were situated next to each other. This was why accidentals were happening as pilots were selecting the wrong switch when landing under pressure.

They solved the problem by attaching a small rubber wheel to the landing-gear switch and a small flap shape to the flaps control. These switches were now easily identified. This marginal change to the design of the controls, had dramatic results and accidents of this kind ceased overnight.

The rule of 1% makes goals less overwhelming

We often convince ourselves that change is only worthwhile if it’s a big goal. We put pressure on ourselves to make ground-breaking improvements that will impress everyone, but the Rule of 1 Percent is less intimidating and more achievable in the long term.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – Lao Tzu

Mount Everest

Mount Everest

Make 2017 your most productive year yet

Begin each day asking yourself:

What can I do 1 percent better both personally and professionally?

I’ll give you a couple of personal examples of where I have made 1% improvements

  • All the research shows that giving people positive feedback improves their performance, yet this is a practice that I often overlook, so I set a daily alarm on my phone to remind me to do so.
  • Team meetings can sometimes be a negative experience, so at TWI we start our weekly team meetings with each person giving a piece of good news. This dramatically changes the dynamics of the meeting, introducing positivity which is known to improve ideas sharing and general engagement

Neither of these simple practices are rocket science, but they each make that important 1% difference.

Our clients love the Rule of 1 Percent, as it makes implementing good practice less daunting. If you get 1% better at something every week for 1 year – the compounded effect at the end of the year is 300% better!


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