The Thinnest of Margins

The line between success and failure is sometimes thin. If you’re into baseball — as I was when I was a kid — you know that the difference between a .300 hitter and a .250 hitter can be the difference between the Hall of Fame and not even making it to the big leagues.

The gap between .300 and .250 seems like a chasm until you look at it closely and realize that it’s exactly five percent! That’s right. The difference in batting average between a hall of famer and a guy who didn’t even get to play in “The Show” is often just five percent.

To look at it another way, if both players got 500 at bats, it’s the difference between 150 base hits and 125 hits. That works out to be just one extra hit a week for the season.

It’s not much, is it? But it’s everything.

Want a more dramatic example? Let’s talk world class sprinters.

Usain Bolt currently holds the world record for 100 meters at 9.58 seconds. To be in the top 25, you must run it in 9.88 seconds or faster. The difference is just three percent, but it’s the difference between having a legitimate shot to win the race and not having a prayer. It’s the difference between being world famous —like Usain Bolt — and being essentially nameless and faceless, like Michael Frater (Bolt’s Jamaican teammate who ran it in 9.88 in 2010).

Three percent!

Luckily, most of the margins in our lives and our businesses are not so thin or so fine. We don’t have to be on the absolute top of our game to succeed, and that’s fortunate since I doubt most of us could even begin to exploit every competitive advantage, edge or angle.

I know that I would struggle. I can see holes in my “game” that might be exposed under that kind of magnifying glass or pressure, and I know I’m not alone.

But if the difference between relative success and failure at the highest levels of competition is so slim, what makes us think it’s any better or easier in our business or at our level? If Usain Bolt is just three percent faster than the 25th best sprinter who lines up against him, how much better or worse are we when compared to others in our field, and how much better do we need to be?

And how do we get there?

These are tough questions, and I don’t have all the answers, but I’m certain that each of us can find ways to get better, faster, stronger, smarter, more efficient and more effective than we are today. I’m also certain that it’s important we follow through and do it.

The world is not standing still, even if we are. Our competition is either improving or declining — catching up, falling back or pulling ahead.

We can be the ones pulling ahead if we work those thin margins. Sometimes the little things mean everything.