4/13/20 — The 20 Mile March

In 1910, two explorers set out to be the first to reach the South Pole. Robert Falcon Scott hoped to claim the bottom of the world for England; Roald Amundsen wished to plant the Norwegian flag there on behalf of his countrymen.

They had a single goal, but their approaches were quite different. As the story goes, Scott failed, and he and his men died during their exploration. However, Amundsen succeeded. He and his team made their way to the Antarctic Circle, planted their Norwegian flag, and then returned home safely to tell the story. You can read about this story in more detail here.

First coined by Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great, this exploration has brought about the phrase The 20 Mile March. This concept points to a company, business, or personal goal being single-tracked and steadfast in order to 10X.

Amundsen understood the importance of a single aim, saying:

“Our plan is one, one and again one alone–to reach the pole. For that goal, I have decided to throw everything else aside. We shall do what we can without colliding with this plan. If we were to have a night watch, we would have a light burning the whole time. In one room, as we have, this would be worrying for most of us, and make us weak. What concerns me is that we all live properly in all respects during the winter. Sleep and eat well, so that we have full strength and are in good spirits when spring arrives to fight towards the goal which we must attain at any cost.”

In other words, work smarter not harder. The differences that produced the end goals were not bravery, risk, or decisiveness, but preparedness and the ability to stay on course no matter what.

Scott pushed his team hard. Going sometimes 20+ miles when the sun was out, pushing them to exhaustion. Amundsen rarely went more than 5-miles per day. Every single day through the best and worst of conditions, accomplishing his task of getting his men to go 5-miles, and then eating and resting well.

In his book, Good to Great, Collins lays out 7 elements of a good 20-Mile March:

  1. Clear performance markers
  2. Self-imposed constraints
  3. Appropriate to the enterprise [or individual]
  4. Largely within your control
  5. A proper timeframe — long enough to manage, yet short enough to have teeth
  6. Designed and self-imposed by the enterprise [or individual]
  7. Achieved with high consistency

The best producers overtime are not the over-reactors or the opportunists. They are the steady and consistent 20-milers. Through rain and shine, whatever the situation, they prepare their team and their organizations to achieve a short-distance each and every week.

What are these for you?