Jim Collins writes of a fascinating race to the South Pole:
In October 1911, two teams of adventurers made their final preparations in their quest to be the first people in modern history to reach the South Pole.
The two leaders — Roald Amundsen, the winner, and Robert Falcon Scott, the loser — were of similar ages (39 and 43) and had comparable experience. Amundsen and Scott started their respective journeys for the Pole within days of each other, both facing a round trip of more than 1,400 miles into an uncertain and unforgiving environment, where temperatures could easily reach 20? below zero even during the summer, made worse by gale-force winds. And keep in mind, this was 1911. They had no means of modern communication to call back to base camp — no radio, no cellphones, no satellite links — and a rescue would have been highly improbable at the South Pole if they failed. One leader led his team to victory and safety. The other led his team to defeat and death.
So what was the difference? Why did one team succeed while the other failed?
The difference was in a simple choice of leadership by Roald Amundsen: he set the goal of marching 20 miles every day.
Throughout the journey, Amundsen adhered to a regimen of consistent progress, never going too far in good weather, careful to stay far away from the red line of exhaustion that could leave his team exposed, yet pressing ahead in nasty weather to stay on pace. Amundsen throttled back his well-tuned team to travel between 15 and 20 miles per day, in a relentless march to 90?south. When a member of Amundsen’s team suggested they could go faster, up to 25 miles a day, Amundsen said no. They needed to rest and sleep so as to continually replenish their energy.
In contrast, Scott would sometimes drive his team to exhaustion on good days and then sit in his tent and complain about the weather on bad days. In early December, Scott wrote in his journal about being stopped by a blizzard: “I doubt if any party could travel in such weather.” But when Amundsen faced conditions comparable to Scott’s, he wrote in his journal, “It has been an unpleasant day — storm, drift, and frostbite, but we have advanced 13 miles closer to our goal.”
For Amundsen’s team, it was a race to victory and a safe return home. For Scott’s team, it was a devastating defeat, reaching the Pole only to find the wind-whipped flags of their rivals planted 34 days earlier, followed by a race for their lives — a race that they lost in the end, as the advancing winter swallowed them up. All five members of the second Pole team perished, staggering from exhaustion, suffering the dead-black pain of frostbite, and then freezing to death as some wrote their final journal entries and notes to loved ones back home.
You can succeed in the same conditions in which others fail, if you have a 20-mile march and the discipline to stick to it. It takes a long time to become an overnight success.
- What habits or activities do you need to do on a daily basis to get where you need to be spiritually? That’s your spiritual 20-mile march.
- What habits or activities do you need to do on a daily basis to get where you need to be physically? That’s your physical 20-mile march.
(You can read more from Jim Collins about the 20-mile March here)