How Students Can 20-Mile March Their Way to Good Grades

20 Mile March image

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons by Steve Cyr

Jim Collins is an author and astute researcher and scientist in the business world. His ability to research, ask the right questions, and trust the research to make his points has changed the way many companies work. As the founder of a management laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, he researches and hosts masterminding sessions with top CEOs to find the best ways to run organizations.

His series of books include Good to Great, Great By Choice, Why the Mighty Fall, and Built to Last. In these books, he has provided the world with principles that not only help multi-million and billion dollar companies, he has also provided statistics that help any organization run as effectively as possible at the 10X level. The “10X level” is the designation given to companies that outperformed other companies in their respective industry by at least ten times. They can be applied to corporations, non-profit organizations, school clubs, and even on an individual basis.

In this article, we will talk about the author’s impactful 20 Mile March principle, which your students can use to perform to the best of their abilities.

The Story of the 20 Mile March

The author tells a story of two famous Antarctic explorers, Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott, who led their own teams to the South Pole in the early 1900s. One team made it to the South Pole while one team froze to death. Let’s see if you can guess which one made it.

Scott vs Amundsen

  1. Mindset: Scott planned his trip to the best efficiency. Amundsen planned his trip with the “to be safe” mindset.
  2. Meal Planning: In order to avoid carrying extra weight, Scott portioned the meals to last the exact number of estimated days it would take go hike from one filling station to the next. He packed 1 ton of food for seventeen men. Unlike Scott, Amundsen portioned meals to last long enough to miss every single filling station and still be able to last an extra 100 miles in case there were any mistakes made.
  3. Tools: Scott brought exactly one thermometer. Alternatively, Amundsen brought four thermometers in case they experienced malfunctions.
  4. Transportation: Scott used horses and new untested technology as the team’s main source of transportation. Instead of using horses, Amundsen learned from the Eskimos who had experience with extremely cold weather and used sled dogs to transport people and equipment.
  5. Travel Patterns: On the course of the trip, Scott and his team would take advantage of good weather days by hiking longer. On bad weather days, his team would rest and stay put until the weather cleared up. Amundsen and his team did the complete opposite by consistently traveling between 15-25 miles regardless of good or bad weather. On bad days, they would travel in that range, and on good days, they limited their travel to that mileage so as to avoid overextending themselves.

The Winner:

On December 15, 1911, one of the teams reached the South Pole. That team was the one led by Amundsen. The team led by Scott was a staggering 360 miles behind. Amundsen and his team reached their home turf on January 25, while Scott and his team ran out of supplies in March and froze to death just 10 miles from their next supply depot.

The Lessons & How Students Can Apply Them

The true story illustrated above serves as an anecdote for a principle that Jim Collins and his research team found to be true in all 10X companies.

Lesson 1:

It is important to plan ahead for potential disasters. It is better to be safe than sorry. If Scott had only packed a little more food, his team could have potentially made it the 10 miles necessary to their next supply depot to restock.

It is important for students to think positive, but also to prepare for the worst. This is because disasters do happen, and when one is prepared, one is better able to deal with them smoothly and keep moving forward. Those who are not prepared will get stuck in the snow.

Lesson 2:

Pay attention to details. In order to plan for the trip, Amundsen lived with the Eskimos and learned from them. He observed their slow movements to avoid overexertion and sweat. He observed their sled dogs who were easily able to stay warm under their layers of fur. He also made it a point to bring extra tools and supplies in case a malfunction occurred.

The students that perform the best are the ones who not only complete the assignments, but also take the extra step to ensure that the details are without flaws. This includes checking for spelling and grammar, ensuring that the corners are glued down without smudges, and so on. It may be easy to earn a B in the class, but that extra level of detail is what takes it to the next level. With projects, viewers are not always able to tell the exact thing that makes one project than the next. They are the little things that push a project from good to great.

Lesson 3:

Consistency is extremely important. While Scott took action based on the weather, Amundsen knew that he had to keep moving regardless of the weather in order to succeed.

Life is very much like traveling through a snowstorm. There are good days and there are bad days, but no days are a walk in the park. In order to move forward, students must travel through both. It does not depend on whether the circumstances are good or bad, the most important thing is that students keep going. One very good example of a situation is having a busy schedule. Many students participate in after school activities including sports and clubs. But a busy schedule doesn’t mean that students should do less work. Continue doing steady, incremental work throughout. Additionally, and just as important, students should not wait for “free time” to do work. There should be an upper limit. Do not overexert during the good times, because that may cause exhaustion or burnout.

The Finish Line

Jim Collins provided an excellent body of research from which to base our actions. The 20 Mile March is a principle that applies to everyone including students. First, remember to anticipate disasters and prepare for the worst. Second, pay attention to the details. Finally, stay consistent whether the weather is good or bad. Following these steps, students will march their way to success in school and in life.

1 Comment

  1. Ricardo

    January 19, 2016 at 9:07 am

    It is better to be safe than sorry! Great article and story.