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Consistent growth happens through small, incremental steps

Business Management

Nigel Collin’s blueprint for success is to use incremental, consistent improvement in all parts of a business to make money, save money, save time and be more productive.
Photo: Ned Meldrum Photography

After talking to business owners all over Australia, Nigel Collin developed his Game of Inches blueprint for using small consistent improvements to create big and lasting results.

If you listen to most business growth experts, they will tell you there’s nothing more important than coming up with a big idea. The concept of innovation has moved from buzzword to core purpose, doggedly pursued by organisations as the holy grail of growth enablement.  

It was refreshing to hear a different take on innovation from Nigel Collin, author of The Game of Inches and speaker at APAL’s 2023 Industry Forum.  

“The myth is that you need to be innovative and next-level like Steve Jobs to be successful,” Nigel told delegates. “But what if sustainable growth happens as a result of small, consistent steps instead of innovative leaps?”  

Nigel’s research into this subject has led to a blueprint for using incremental, consistent improvement in all parts of a business to make money, save money, save time and be more productive.  

Be a gap hunter 

“Ideas are useless unless they have a place in your world,” Nigel said. “Instead of being an idea-hunter, you need to become a gap-hunter.” 

‘Gaps’ are those little problems or opportunities that, if addressed, have a really big impact on your bottom line. These may be: 

  • external gaps such as market forces that are outside our control, or thrust upon us by disruptions such as Covid or regulatory changes 
  • internal gaps in the way we do things on a daily basis. Ask your team to ‘gap hunt’ the little frustrations and gaps they notice day to day and come up with ways to address them 
  • personal gaps to do with your own professional development and mindset.  

There’s money in gaps. Even the smallest change can make a massive difference when implemented at scale.  

The Australian Taxation Office, for example, changed just six words on its letters sent out to overdue accounts and increased its response rate by 30 per cent. In the United States, Northwest Airlines famously saved half a million dollars by cutting limes into 16 segments instead of 10. ANZ turned off all screensavers and saved 600MW per year by allowing screens to go to sleep, while a South Australian plough manufacturer saved hundreds of valuable hours per year by simply moving a shelf of paint from one side of a warehouse to the other.   

What makes Nigel’s approach so attractive is its achievability. These aren’t complex, aspirational, or moon-shot innovations; they are small gaps that are easy to find and fix. The process is deliberately simple: find a gap, take action, test and measure whether the action is working or not, then improve it if it’s working. If not, delete it and move on.   

Mindset is everything 

Nigel developed his Game of Inches blueprint after talking to hundreds of business owners all over regional Australia.  

“When you speak to so many people, you begin to see patterns in what they do and how they do it,” he said.  

Two patterns that really stuck out for Nigel were purpose (understanding the ‘why’ and value of the little things you do) and mindset (embracing change and navigating through challenges).  

“Mindset is everything,” he said. “It’s one of those intangible things, but nurturing the right mindset is incredibly important. It helps you overcome the challenges you hit along the way. People with a growth mindset reject the notion that their skills, abilities and talents are fixed. They believe they can grow and learn new things.” 

What about the inevitable roadblocks that get in the way of consistent improvement? Again, the answer lies with having the right mindset.  

“There’s always a myriad of constraints, parameters and things to abide by, such as budget, time, or regulatory issues,” Nigel said. “People with the right mindset know how to think inside the box – a metaphor for working inside the parameters. It frees you up to think creatively and makes it easier for you to come up with solutions. It’s a very different way of thinking.” 

So, take a moment today to identify a gap or frustration in your day-to-day business, take action and watch your business grow through small, sustainable steps.  


This article was first published in the Winter 2023 edition of AFG.

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