Productivity & Effectiveness

Gaining the slight edge at work

By 01/01/2016 August 22nd, 2019 No Comments
Gaining the slight edge at work

The Slight Edge is a great book by Jeff Olson.

The premise of the book is that in order to obtain the slight edge you need to do tiny positive improvements each day. It’s not the big things that give you the advantage in your work or life, it’s the daily consistent actions that make the big differences over time.

These daily choices and improvements are super easy to do. The problem is they are also super easy not to do.

As such depending on which route you take you can end up in totally different places.

Cliff Edges

Cliff Edges
Photo by Leio McLaren (@leiomclaren) on Unsplash

A classic example is with health choices. Everyday you can make a healthy choice. But also everyday you can make an unhealthy choice. These tiny choices, healthy or not healthy, probably won’t make much difference over a day, or a week, even a month. But over a year you could have seriously affected your life. A positive health choice everyday will lead to a healthier life.

The Slight Edge and work

In our work the slight edge is also at play.

For example, in an agile team it’s really easy to follow the definition of done. It’s also really easy not to.

Assuming the definition of done has been well crafted and is suitably relevant then the long term affect of not following it will result in tech debt, test debt and an inferior service.

Another example – it’s really easy to keep your colleagues informed of your work and it’s outcomes. It’s also really easy not to keep them informed. Over time confusion sets in and communication barriers can become big hurdles to overcome.

It’s really easy to focus on making the world better for our customers. It’s also really easy not to and to focus on improving our work over the value these improvements make for our customers.

It’s really easy to do the appropriate level of testing. It’s also really easy not to one day, which then may become a couple of days of the week when we skip certain tests, then entire week and pretty soon the service has test gaps too big to fill.

Every day you get to make choices. Do the positive choice or the other(s).

It’s easy to get sucked in to thinking “one more day” and before you know it months have passed and you’re on a journey to an ending that you don’t want.

It’s very easy to take the path of least resistance, but that path is fraught with problems.


“The path of least resistance is a terrible teacher” – The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday.


So next time you find yourself making a choice that will lead to a downward spiral (skipping a stage of the process, skipping tests, avoiding a tricky conversation, not eating well, not getting enough rest, not defining user stories well enough, not taking a lunch break…….) consider the opposite.

Consider what would happen if you took the correct path and made the right choice. Consider the end goal. Consider the slight edge you’ll have.

It’s important to ensure the slight edge is applied to a number of factors in your work and life though. Applying it to just one is great, but consider the theory of marginal gains:

“The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together” – Wikipedia

When the theory of marginal gains was applied to the British Cycling Teams work, Dave Brailsford (head coach), took the British team to great heights in a short time (Gold medals). He improved a number of factors by just 1% and the team achieved the slight edge.

Small incremental and consistent changes matter.

The Slight Edge + Marginal Gains = Success

In teams where the slight edge and marginal gains are applied, you will find consistency, a core set of principles and values, and daily choices that lead these teams to epic effectiveness.

The same is true in individuals – they have a work ethic that sees them making the right choices in many aspects of their life and enabling them to have the slight edge. Often times these people make it look like magic – it’s nothing more than consistent correct daily choices and actions towards an end goal.

In today’s busy and overcrowded commercial market the slight edge is what every company needs.

In today’s busy and overcrowded job market the slight edge is what every individual needs.


The Slight Edge book
The Obstacle Is The Way book
Dave Brailsford on Wikepedia
Improving performance through marginal gains article
The value of marginal gains – Lifehacker article
Marginal Gains and Process Improvement – James Clear article
Should we all be looking for marginal gains – BBC news article