How to outperform: business lessons from 4 world record breakers

By optimising their performance, four novice rowers smashed one of the toughest records on the planet.

In business as in sport, small iterative improvements can lead to transformational results.

This is the marginal gains approach. It holds that if you want to be the best, and achieve ground breaking results, you need take the time to analyse, test and improve the little things that make up the bigger picture.

This formula has been implemented by teams of all kinds (famously the British Olympic cycling team), going in active pursuit of positive changes when others may simply be relying on natural advantages.

The 4 Oarsmen

Nowhere was the truer than with The 4 Oarsmen. This year Big Rock was proud to sponsor four novice rowers who rowed their way across the Atlantic and into the record book and smash the previous world record by 8 whole days in the process.

Their time: 29 days, 14 Hours, 34 Mins.

Their previous experience: Almost Zero.

So how did they do it?

Optimised performance

In sport, as in business, the concept of marginal gains is clear. Work diligently to perfect even the smallest aspects of your performance and amazing results will follow.

The 3,000-mile unaided journey across the Atlantic is dubbed the world’s toughest row. More people have been into space than have completed it.

By taking a granular approach to every aspect of their journey, the 4 Oarsman were able to open up a serious lead over their competition. Not just in this race, but over all who came before them.

We spoke with oarsmen Stuart Watts about what it took to go from zero to hero in only 18 months, and what businesses can learn from The 4 Oarsmen when it comes to outperforming in a highly competitive space.

To keep it simple, we’ve broke it down into 6 key areas that translate directly to business growth.

How to come out on top in a highly competitive space

1. Natural Difference

Understand what intrinsically makes you different

The 4 Oarsmen are all over 6’4” in height. This is their natural advantage. Throughout their journey this was a clear differentiator to many of their competitors that lacked this physical stature.

In business, you need to be aware of your natural advantages and build them into the fabric of your strategy. This is one of the most impactful things you can do. If it’s naturally in your favour, do everything you can to make the most of it and it will carry you above your competition.

2. Marginal Gains

Make iterative improvements to boost overall productivity

The 4 Oarsmen were the first crew to wrap their boat in reflective material, reducing the cabin temperature and therefore allowing them to better optimise their sleeping patterns to restore crucial energy. This small change to their approach gave them a considerable physical and psychological advantage over their competitors. Although not directly measurable, the boost this change brought about is significant.

In business, it can sometimes be seemingly unrelated changes (perhaps in culture or environment) that can bring about the biggest changes in overall productivity and effectiveness. To get ahead, start implementing small changes to your processes. Keep what works well and always look to improve what isn’t.

3. Trust in experts

You can’t be an expert in everything. Know when to trust others.

The oarsmen took expert nutritional advice to shift away from traditional high carb diets in favour of a high fat diet. This reduced the likelihood for energy highs and lows in favour of consistent energy – and therefore mood.

In business, it’s important to recognise the limitations of your own expertise. Building successful collaborations with experts in areas beyond your usual domain can truly set you apart from your competitors.

4. Don’t say you’re different, be different.

Know your objectives. And find the most effective way to achieve them.

From the very beginning, The 4 Oarsmen’s strategy was to be consistently moving, with 2 rowing and 2 resting at all times. Knowing this strategy throughout the training period gave them an even greater upper hand, allowing them to explore new ways of making this unique strategy pay off.

For example, this led to The 4 Oarsmen selecting a different route to all other crews, backing their strength to push through a shorter route with lower trade winds. This unique choice of route (as well as their shift away from a traditional high carb diet) were only possible because of this initial strategy. Having confidence in their strategy was the key to accepting these untested methods and making them work to their advantage.

In business, copying what others are doing can only get you so far. To really stand out, and outperform the very best, you need to know your strategy and have the confidence to see it through. Even if these means trying things that have never been done before.

5. Find your motivational purpose

Everyone is out there trying to win. You need to find a greater motivational purpose to push through the hard times.

The purpose behind The 4 Oarsmen’s journey was to raise vital funds for Mind and Spinal Research, two charities close to their hearts. While many other competing crews were purely trying to win the race.

With this as extra motivation behind them, they were able to push themselves further, powering their determination to outperform. In the end, they were able to raise over £350,000 for the charities.

In business, it’s important to have a deeper driving force behind your business that can push you to do great things. This can be a philosophy, a goal or a vision that drives you to work harder than those around you to bring about a better product, a better service, a better experience, a better industry and a better world.

6. Sacrifice

You can’t be the best without unprecedented commitment.

The oarsmen trained night and day while holding down full-time jobs. 20hr days were commonplace. And strategically, they pin pointed Christmas day as a day where they could make further advances on other crews, making the correct assumption that other crews would use the day for additional rest and reflection.

In business, to be the best at what you do requires unparalleled dedication and commitment to your journey. Without this, it’s easy for the thing you’re trying to build to lose momentum and wither away in the process. If you’re serious about your grand aspirations, in business or sport, you have to give it everything you’ve got to make them a reality.

If you’re ready to rethink your digital strategy to get the most out of your business and challenge in the big leagues, get in touch to speak with one of our expert strategists to see what you should be doing now to get ahead in the future.