Long Run Mindset: The 20-Mile March

While talking with a client about a tremendous challenge within their organization, I was reminded of a story from Jim Collins' book, Great By Choice. In it, Collins tells the story of competing journeys to the South Pole by explorer's Roald Amundson & Robert Scott in 1910-13. The trip was roughly 1,400 miles round trip through some of the harshest terrain known (and maybe unknown) to man. It would test their team's minds and bodies to the absolute limit. 

Both Amundson & Scott were accomplished in their fields and had incredible teams and financial backing. Unfortunately, Scott's team failed and paid the ultimate price, whereas Amundson's team succeeded. While there were several differences, there was one vital difference Collins notes that I found to be relevant to the challenge this leader was facing. It's best explained as the concept of the "20-mile march."

Scott's team made a decision they would go as far as they could every day in which the weather was good and rest on severe weather days. (Hey, we can all relate to that feeling!) The result? On the good days, they went much further than 20 miles. On the bad days, they sat idle. Sometimes they stayed idle for several days in a row.

Amundson's team, on the other hand, chose a different approach. They decided that rain (or snow, I suppose) or shine, they would go 20 miles. No matter what. 

Since I spoiled the ending, you know the outcome. Amundson's team reached the South Pole a full five weeks before Scott's team and they were able to return safely. Scott and his team never made it home.

In the example of the client I was working with, she needed to make daily progress towards improving her organization. People weren't going to just start trusting each other because of a single moment they shared. They needed consistent, daily action to make the change.

Is there a lesson here for the rest of us?

Of course. Daily progress is invigorating. It builds momentum for change. It signals we are moving forward not only to ourselves but to our organizations. Momentum is powerful.

With that in mind, what is your 20-mile march? Where do you need to start building momentum for change?

Is it spending 15-minutes at the end of a long day reading a book that will better you? At the end of the year, you would have 91 hours reading in the bank. That's an incredible two full work weeks for many people!

Is it spending 30-minutes working on an idea you have for a new product? That's a full month working on your idea.

Could you spend an hour each week improving a process as a team? That would be more than the equivalent of a week of kaizen process improvement sessions.

Any worthwhile Long-Run goal isn't something you pull off in an all-nighter. Thomas Edison didn't have a single burst of creativity that resulted in the invention of the light bulb. Leonardo Da Vinci didn't roll out of bed one day and paint the Mona Lisa. Steve Jobs didn't just imagine and build the iPhone in a weekend in Cupertino. All of these things required lifelong pursuits and steady progress made consistently.  

What's your long-run? What is your 20-mile march? 

I bet we'll all be amazed at how far you get. 

Eric Zakovich is the founder and principal consultant of Long Run Leadership Consulting. He's been working with leaders, teams, and organizations for a really long time now. Connect with Eric to learn more about how the Long Run Leadership Mindset can help you, your team and your organization.