In January of 2009, the former COO of Zappos, Alfred Lin, sent an email to all their employees. Inside the email, he shared one of the best pieces of truth bombs you and I will ever encounter. He encouraged everyone to make one improvement in themselves each week. As a result, this will improve Zappos and the world at large. He’s talking about the slight edge principle.
In fact, if you take $100 and increase it by just 1% each day, you’ll end up with $3,777.40. Instead of getting only 365% return from your initial capital, you get an improvement of 3,777% (37.7x)! That’s the magic of compounding.
Take the same concept and apply it in your own life. If you get better by 1% daily, at the end of the year, you’ll be 37x better than you are right now. Getting that kind of return from seemingly insignificant improvement can be overwhelming to believe. I mean, I can’t even imagine what it looks like to be 37x better at your job right now.
So, if you can’t commit to 1% daily improvement (or if it seems too much), try getting better weekly. At the end of the year, you’ll still be 67% better than you are right now. It may seem small, but considering that most people don’t invest in their growth, you’re still far ahead than your colleagues. (Compute your rate of improvement using this calculator.)
The Slight Edge Principle
In the book The Slight Edge Principle by Jeff Olson, he elaborated on this principle. He said that The Slight Edge is a principle that makes you do simple things everyday, the things that don’t seem to matter. These actions compound to deliver to you the life you dream about.
There are seven principles of the Slight Edge:
- Show Up
- Be Consistent
- Have a Good Attitude
- Be Committed for a Long Period of Time
- Have Faith and a Burning Desire
- Be Willing to Pay the Price
- Have Integrity
Though simple to understand and almost self-explanatory, I want to focus on the fourth principle. It’s one that’s easiest to overlook, especially when you don’t see immediate results in your life. To tap into the power of the slight edge, you need to commit to doing things for a long period of time.
This reminds me of The Stonecutter’s Credo from Jason Riis:
When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.Jason Riis
Failure is a part of your journey to success. It’s inevitable. And you must keep doing things for a long period of time if you want real and lasting success. After all, success is doing things that are also easy not to do.
The Four Strategies of Self-Growth
There are four strategies for self-growth and whether you accept or believe it, you’re already implementing one. It’s only a matter of whether you are getting the results you want to see in your life. The fact is, we are posed with this choice every single day. And at any moment, you can change the direction of your life by making a different decision.
Are people who practice the principle of slight edge. They put in the daily discipline to work, practice, and improve their craft. This effort accumulates and they improve by leaps and bounds with time. It may seem like compounders become overnight success, but years of work in secret will prove otherwise.
In his Ted Talk, Stephen Duneier, an CEO of Bija Advisors, talked about making marginal improvements. These are small tweaks you do in your routine everyday to accomplish your biggest, most ambitious goals. His process is so simple, it’s mind-boggling. Watch his talk here:
The practice of daily improvement isn’t sexy, but it works. In fact, it’s the only method that works over a long period of time.
The second strategy is to put in the discipline every now and then. Still better than the next two, but it doesn’t work in the long run. Reading a book every now and then won’t change your life. Going to workshops and seminars from time to time will give you a boost of dopamine. It will motivate you for a time, but won’t change your life for good.
Have you ever worked with someone who’s been on the same job for years or decades? They’ve been doing the same things, on the same level they were in, and with the same level of efficiency. I’ve met a couple of those in my career.
Plateauing isn’t only applicable in jobs, but in all aspects of our lives. It takes a higher level of maturity and self-awareness to accept and work on portions of our life where we stagnate. The paradox is, when we let go of our pride and accept personal responsibility, that’s when we grow.
I don’t know if you can technically call this “development” since it’s counter to what development means. If anything, it’s a negative development, if there’s such a thing. But I included it because it’s part of a reality we can’t ignore.
These are people who make poor choices because their judgment is clouded. They could be living at the “peak of life” and achieve great things. Yet, because they think they’re invincible, they make poor choices that result in a decline in their growth.
I recently watched the film Bohemian Rhapsody, the depiction of the journey of the band Queen, on Netflix. When the band toured in the US, Freddie Mercury started indulging in the “forbidden pleasures” of life. It was the height of their career as a band, but drugs, sex, and money clouded his judgment. He lost sight of what’s essential in his life.
As any good story goes, there was a redeeming moment when he was diagnosed with AIDS. He started reconciling with his band, his family, and real friends. On a side note, though, watching the Live Aid reenactment was literal chills because it’s so close to what happened! (Props to Rami Malek for an awesome performance).
Here’s a side-by-side comparison if you haven’t seen it:
Enough fanboying. Athletes and celebrities aren’t the only ones who experience regressive development. Normal people like you and me can make that mistake, too. That’s why you have to make an active choice not to go down that path.
The Difference Between Allen Iverson (A.I.) And Kobe
Over the years, Allen Iverson became synonymous with not practicing. Especially since he made one of the most epic rants in sports history. But this myth isn’t true. In 2020, A.I.’s former teammate, Kenny Thomas was interviewed on the Scoop B Radio Podcast. He said that every time Iverson would step into the court, he would give his best. He was competitive and acted as if a real game was going on. So A.I.’s viral rant on practice back in 2002 is mostly taken out of context.
Iverson, however, asked Gary Payton, the Sonic’s guard, for advice on staying healthy. Gary told A.I. that his coach, George Karl, doesn’t make him practice. In his younger years, Gary Payton was averaging 46 (out of 48) minutes per game. To compensate for it, he told SB Nation that he didn’t practice a lot.
In fact, his coach supported that decision. Payton was only called to play “the real game.” He’d only practice for an hour, then his coach would pull him out and ask him to go into the Jacuzzi and ice up. All the while, he’s still getting the massages and therapy he needs to stay healthy. Iverson tried doing the same thing, but in a wrong way.[*]
It’s true that Iverson went on practice and the media played a role in bending the frame. But the thing is, his practices, though passionate and competitive, were sporadic.
Kobe Had A Different Strategy
If you make a quick google search on “how does Kobe Bryant practice,” you’ll see around 7.8 million search results. The tales of Kobe’s unbelievable work ethic are endless – it’s too much to track!
For example, in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the US reassembled another dream team for basketball. It was composed of NBA All Stars and future Hall of Famers. Weeks before the actual olympic, they had a mini-camp in Las Vegas.
One morning, his teammates just woke up and were preparing for breakfast. Yet, here was Kobe, walking with ice on his knees alongside his trainers. While his teammates were still stretching to start their day, Bryant had put in three hours of practice in the gym.[*]
Another example was in the 1999 – 2000 season, Kobe broke his right wrist. Before he got injured, he was always the first one to come into the gym and practice. So with the injuries, his teammates were excited because they thought they’d beat Bryant and be the first to come. But when the morning came, Bryant was still the first one to come, practicing with his left hand.
The stories about Kobe’s practices are amazing. And I think this summarizes his philosophy:
Those times when you get up early and you work hard. Those times you stay up late and you work hard. The times when you don’t feel like working. You’re too tired. You don’t want to push yourself, but you do it anyway. That is actually the dream.Kobe Bryant
Kobe is a compounder. And the difference between A.I. and Bryant isn’t just about practice; it reflected on their stats, too.
Head-To-Head Career Comparison
Both A.I. and Kobe were drafted in 1997. Iverson played for 14 seasons, Bryant for 20. Here are some of their accomplishments:
|Accomplishments||Allen Iverson||Kobe Bryant|
|NBA Championships||0||5 (2 NBA Finals MVP)|
|All-NBA First Team (The players with the highest point totals at their respective positions make the first team)||3||11|
|All Defensive Teams (Best defensive players during a season)||0||12|
|Rookie of the Year||1||0|
Note: Check out their stats comparison here.
In my opinion, going into the NBA, Iverson seemed to have more talent than Kobe. In fact, Iverson won Rookie of the Year (1996-97 Season) and Kobe was nowhere near the nomination. A classic example of “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work.” [*]
All of these examples are an elaborate case study that show the soundness of The Slight Edge Principle. Simple things, done consistently every day, will compound and deliver you the life you want to live.
How To Practice The Slight Edge Principle
“Showing up” daily is a given fact when you want to practice the principle of continuous improvement. So for our purpose, we won’t be going through that. After all, it’s in your best interest to know other practical ways to grow other than the obvious ones.
Accumulate And Apply Knowledge
There are multiple ways to accumulate information that you need to improve your life and achieve your goals. Here are some:
- Read good books;
- Find great mentors;
- Join a support system;
- Hire a coach you trust;
- Enroll on courses and workshops;
- Watch videos on YouTube;
- Consume articles from reputable sources;
- Find someone who’s opinion and POV is different from you and have a conversation;
- Get into Universities;
- Teach what you know
The problem isn’t accumulation, it’s application. We are constantly being bombarded by new information daily – more than we know how to retain and consume. But more important is knowing which to consume and which to apply.
For example, if you want to get promoted at your job, there are buttloads of advice available to you right now. But without the discipline of taking one idea and applying it enough to make it a habit, information doesn’t matter.
When you take what you know and apply it long enough, something magical happens. It becomes part of your identity, part of who you believe you are. It becomes natural to you and all of a sudden, you become unconsciously competent in that domain. Once that happens, you begin to see further, higher, and understand things deeper.
Practice With Purpose
The thing about leveraging the Slight Edge is that you can’t just go through the motions. You must have clarity on what you’re working on and how you want it to improve. You need to get feedback on what’s happening with your work and a bar to measure your progress against. That’s why it’s critical to have a coach, mentor, or teacher who would give you comments on what you must improve.
This is called Deliberate Practice or doing something with the sole purpose of improving performance. This is different from the practice we’re normally familiar with, which is doing something repeatedly so it becomes unconscious to us.
Here’s a short clip from Ted Ed explaining how to practice effectively.
Double Down On What Works
The principle of Slight Edge is not just about compounding your efforts to have a fulfilling life. It’s also about standing out and being a valuable person in your career, relationships, and other aspects of life.
You and I and all the people you’ll meet in life have different sets of strengths and weaknesses. We all have a different mix of backgrounds, experiences, and interests. And mixing, stacking, and giving them a unique spin is the key to having a distinct contribution in your company and the world. It’s called Skill Stacking.
Chances are you’re already doing things that are working for you right now. It’s giving you a level of recognition, appreciation, and reputation you enjoy right now. And I’m willing to bet it’s within your circle of strengths and competence. Once you realize what it is, double down on that.
For example, one of my strengths is communicating ideas. I can simplify complex ideas and understand their components and share them in simple terms. This skill helped me throughout my career, promoted me faster, and opened doors of opportunities for me. That’s why I’m doubling down on learning new things and sharing them with you.
Practicing the Slight Edge Principle won’t make you a stud overnight. It’s not a magic pill that will unlock all your brain power and make you a genius, Limitless Style. On the contrary, it’s a slow, deliberate, and proven path to self-growth. But sometimes, in more times we can count, slow is fast.
Live an inspired life,