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Change Management, Continuous Improvement, Operational Research

Blackett Lecture 2019: lessons from winning Olympic gold for building a better world

Blackett 2019On Wednesday night I attended the OR Society’s annual Blackett Lecture which was given by Professor Philip Bond (Professor of Creativity and Innovation at the University of Manchester, a Fellow at Oxford and Visiting Professor at Bristol University).

His topic was “From high-performance teams to a high-performance economy; lessons from winning Olympic gold for building a better world”.

Starting from a fairly gloomy summary of how unproductive the UK economy is compared with the rest of the world, he spoke about how Team GB Cycling and Formula 1 teams achieve world-class performance. The lessons learnt from these examples could easily be transferred to businesses (and public sector or third sector organisations).

It was classic stuff from the world of continuous improvement!

  • Model, measure, feedback (in the world of CI, people will be familiar with Plan-Do-Check-Act)
  • Marginal gains – the cumulative effect of hundreds of small improvements leads to massive performance gains
  • Focus on excellence (and drive out waste) – aim for extreme quality while pushing to the limit of what’s possible (Engineering creativity)
  • The power of simplicity – the art of maximising the amount of work not done
  • Don’t fear competition – it creates challenge and drives improvement
  • Management practices – the invaluable role of performance coaches and leaders’ obsession with continuous improvement

These all explain how Team GB Cycling went from nowhere to top of the medals table. Team GB won 6 cycling gold medals at Rio 2016 and that was twice as many as their nearest rival. Before Chris Boardman’s gold at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, GB hadn’t won a cycling gold since 1920.

Look out for the video of the Blackett Lecture at the OR Society’s website.

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