The 20 Mile March

in Education & Tech Stuff & Life

Great by Choice

Great by Choice, by Jim Collins, delves into the question: What does it take for a company to thrive in times of uncertainty and chaos? The book got me thinking about a lot of things (he is good at that). But it's this one concept Collins introduced that continues to gnaw at me even months later. I see this concept at play seemingly everywhere--the idea of the 20 mile march.

More than a philosophy

The 20 mile march is about "fanatic discipline" as Collins refers to it. It is about getting up every day and taking the little, non-exciting, but very necessary, steps towards attainable goals and doing so with fierce consistency and unwavering determination. "The 20 Mile March is more than a philosophy. It’s about having concrete, clear, intelligent, and rigorously pursued performance mechanisms that keep you on track."

Amundsen & Scott

One of the stories Collins uses to model the elements of the 20 mile march is that of Roald Amundsen & Robert Falcon Scott through their contrasting their journeys in 1910 to be the first to the South Pole. Amundsen and his team trekked between 15-20 miles each day no matter the conditions. When Amundsen's team encouraged him to go further on days when weather was ideal, Amundsen would say no, knowing the importance of rest and recuperation for the team and the overall journey. In contrast, Scott pushed his team to the brink of exhaustion (and later over the edge) going farther on days when conditions were good and wallowing in his tent on stormy days, complaining in his journal about their misfortunes. The story details and comparison are quite incredible and if you want to read more here are a couple places suggested to me by others.

20 Miles not just for business

As I read about Amundsen & Scott, I kept thinking about all the ways this story applied not only to business, but to my experiences in edtech, education as a whole, writing, building content, building products, building communities, learning things, exercise, eating well, relationships, and lots of other things around which I had goals of some sort. In each case I was still searching for an easy button, a shortcut, the secret to making it all work. Well, here is the secret--there is no secret. All those things we seek to improve, from our classroom culture and technology integration practices to our exercise consistency and depth of relationships, they are all going to take a commitment to 20 mile marching.

Edtech Application

Collins specifically outlines 7 elements to the 20 mile march that I found really stinking applicable to goals in our classrooms.


1. Clear Performance Markers

2. Self Imposed Constraints

3. Appropriate to individual

4. Largely within control of team or enterprise to achieve

5. A proper timeframe

6. Designed and self imposed by individual

7. Achieved with high consistency