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29 June 2020

Key Lessons from the 20 Mile March by Jim Collins

Jairek Robbins

In his bestselling book titled “Great by Choice,” Jim Collins introduces the 20-mile march concept whose roots are in a race to the South Pole which took place in 1911. Two teams of explorers participated in this race but they employed different strategies, with widely differing outcomes.

One team opted to march for 20-miles each day regardless of the conditions they faced. If conditions were favorable, they restrained themselves from overexerting themselves. And, when conditions were rough, they disciplined themselves to cover the 20 miles each day. This team reached the South Pole 34 days before their competitors.

The second team opted to march as much as they could on each day. If conditions were favorable, they marched 40 or even 60 miles a day and when conditions were bad, they camped and hunkered down in their tents. Sadly for them, they all perished just 10 miles short of their destination, long after the winning team had arrived. Why is this story important for us today?

Check Out This Amazing Video That Breaks This All Down!

Equipment and Skills Isn’t All That Matters

In any undertaking, it isn’t enough to have the right skills and the appropriate equipment. Both competing teams were headed by highly skilled explorers, and they had the same gear or equipment.

As the story shows, their results varied widely, and this wasn’t because of their skillset or equipment. Something else was at play. Similarly, don’t imagine that your skills and equipment are enough to deliver success in whatever you are doing.

There Never Will Be Enough Perfect Days

Scott’s team (the ill-fated team that perished) may have thought that if they take full advantage of favorable days then they would make up for the bad days when conditions weren’t so great. Their fatal journey serves as a cautionary tale that you will always have more bad days than good ones, so if you are to attain meaningful success, then you have to get out there and do what you have to do despite the prevailing circumstances.

Amundsen’s team (the team that marched 20 miles each day, every day) clearly shows that showing up regardless of prevailing conditions will enable you to achieve great objectives.

Consistency is Key

The most important message that you can take from Jim Collins’ book is that consistency is the most important thing when you want to achieve your goals.

Amundsen’s team consistently marched 20 miles every day, and while their daily target wasn’t anything remarkable, the cumulative tally of their effort was nothing short of extraordinary. For lasting success, you too need to adopt this approach of consistently acting on your goals over a long period of time. 

Break Goals into Manageable Bits

You can set as huge a goal for yourself as you want, but the only factor that determines whether you attain that lofty goal or fail is the execution plan which you set in motion.

Collins shows us that the most successful companies and people set clear goals and break them into small, manageable bits. Back to the 20-mile march, Amundsen broke the entire journey into 20-mile bits and was steadfast in attaining the daily quota of that journey. Scott didn’t divide his march into manageable bits, and he and his team paid the ultimate price for this omission.

To bring this matter closer home, think about someone who, after New Year’s, starts hitting the gym for 5 hours every day in order to get fit and soon burns out, gets injured and cannot workout for months. Compare that to another who decides to go to the gym four times a week and works out for half an hour each time they are at the gym. This second person will keep up their pace for longer and they will ultimately become fitter.

So, break you goals into manageable bits and the momentum of your daily efforts will propel you to heights you hadn’t even imagined. This brings us to the next important lesson below.

Don’t Overdo Anything

Never do anything in the way Scott approached the race to the South Pole in 1911. When you overexert yourself, you run the risk of needing a lot more time to rest and recover from that exertion. It can then be difficult for you to return to the same level of performance or fitness before you pushed yourself excessively.

As they say, life is a marathon, so you need to measure out your steps so that you can last the entire race. Jim Collins suggests that you set an upper and lower limit for your daily, weekly, monthly or even annual targets or goals. Thereafter, do everything possible to hit those modest goals consistently so that you steadily propel yourself to the top regardless of what is happening around you.

Bringing it all together…

Right now, the world in embroiled in a coronavirus pandemic that may forever change our world as we know it. The concept of the 20-mile march is something important for you to consider and start implementing whether you have lost your job, your company or a loved one upon whom you depended for your livelihood. The concept can indeed work in any aspect of life, so use this time of self-isolation to reflect on how you can rebuild your life.

The temptation to throw yourself into your work in a mad frenzy to rebuild the company or your bank balance may be strong, but remember Robert Falcon Scott. Don’t neglect your family because you are building a company. Don’t neglect your health because your job is all that matters. Design your own 20-mile march so that every aspect of your life is given its due attention and the need to reach your goals doesn’t push you over the edge of your sanity.

Ultimately, Jim Collins’ research, and the book “Great by Choice” provides indisputable proof that being consistent is the biggest predictor of how far you can go, rather than sporadic bursts of inspired action. The bonus benefit is that taking measured steps consistently will bring some form of order to the chaotic times we are facing, and that will keep you grounded through it all. What is your 20-mile march for the rest of this year?

To Your Success,

Jairek Robbins



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