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  • Mark Shaw

Achieving High Performance By Understanding The 2% Effect

I have just spent the most amazing weekend with 117 students from 11 Queensland High Schools at the Aus Space Design Competition (

It was inspirational to watch students assume the year was 2065 and respond to an RFT to build a 5,000 person space station circling Mars.  Their primary goal was to assist in the terraforming of the planet. It was also gratifying to see that the business model used for the event supports the views contained in our book The 2% Effect ( 


  • Clarity was achieved.  Everyone was clear on the outcome required.  Equally there was 100% clarity on the expectations of what needed doing and how it was to be done. Finally there was full clarity on how each job helped achieve the final goal.  No one was in doubt as to why they were there of how they could contribute.  It was fantastic.

  • Students (i.e. the staff) were not treated the same.  With students from Year 8 to Year 12, skills and interest covering business to orbital mechanics (yes while still at school!) were identified and everyone was kept busy contributing to the final goal by utilising those array of skills and interests rather than saying “it’s not in my job description”.  While some students were exceptional, most were worker-bees (although pretty bright people I will admit) and the single 2%-er was quickly identified and dealt with in a really positive way that turned him around quickly.

  • Risk was successfully managed. With just 26 hours to respond to the RFT, structures and systems for governance, quality control and review were developed and adhered to. For example the rules for the weekend were on one A4 page - pretty much a Code of Conduct.  They didn’t need or use multiple policies, procedures or compliance forms to achieve a fantastic outcome.  In fact the opposite occurred. Keeping it simple allowed the students to focus on the job rather than worrying about did they comply with some obscure or irrelevant rule. In successfully managing risks in this manner all teams successfully met the submission deadline.

  • High Performance Teams were achieved.  Trust was built as people were left alone to do their job.  Learning happened everywhere as they adopted the mantra “fail often and early so you can then execute successfully”.  The one-team culture was amazing given students were from different schools and working together for the first time.  They were seamless as they all focused on the job-at-hand rather than arguing where they came from or which school was better. Then watching the confidence of 13-17 year olds on 3 hours sleep presenting to an audience of over 400 was phenomenal and inspiring.

This is the 10th year of the competition.  This is the 10th year of phenomenal success achieved by all involved.  

I argue that this is proof that high performance can be achieved when structures and systems based on The 2% Effect are implemented and followed.

The challenge I leave you with is this.  If a not-for-profit organisation run by volunteers can support high school students achieve this outcome, what is stopping you achieving a similar outcome in your organisation?

This is your opportunity now.  This is your opportunity to:

  • Focus on the clarity of your vision, expectations and roles

  • Review the volume and degree of policies and procedures you currently use.

  • Isolate and manager the 2%-ers then focus your efforts on the worker-bees and gifts in your organisation

  • Increase the level of trust and learning

Whatever you do I challenge you to create the opportunity and do it now.  Doing nothing or accepting the status quo is not an option. You can make a difference.

Ps. Congratulation to the students from Canterbury College and St John’s Anglican College who will now represent Australia at the International Finals to be held at the Cape Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, USA later this year.

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