I’ve been a fan of Jim Collins’ work since it was recommended to me in 2008. His essays are thought-provoking, his books are guides to success that we should all re-visit annually, and if you want to see some of his best work, every second of his Drucker Day Centennial keynote speech resonates (I used to show it, in its entirety, at the end of the semester in my Principles of Management class).

Of all his works, Great by Choice has always been my favorite. In it he addresses how some companies achieve greatness despite the challenges of ever-changing business environments. The book may be the only one that contains a data-based study of the role of luck in business success.[1]

I’ve also always been fascinated by the idea of showing up consistently. Even when it takes every fiber of your being to be there, showing up can work wonders for inspiration, motivation, and success over time.

So, I was struck recently by an interview with Jim Collins that refreshed my memory of the 20 Mile March concept from Great by Choice.

Imagine you decide to walk across the United States from one coast to the other. As you set out, you commit to walking twenty miles, and only twenty miles, every day, no matter the conditions. This is the 20 Mile March. An upper bound and a lower bound driven by the consistency of showing up every day.

Imagine the same journey, but instead of a commitment to twenty miles each day, you have some zero days because of unfavorable conditions and some twenty-plus mile days because of favorable conditions.

Collins’ research results? The 20 Mile March companies consistently outperformed the comparison companies by a factor of ten or more. One example: Southwest Airlines…you know, the only profitable airline for forty-seven consecutive years?

Why does the 20 Mile March work? Consistency is the key. It’s easy to come up with excuses to skip a day. When we can have a huge, erratic day of gains, it’s easy to assume we’re “on track” overall because we had that one really good day. And it’s much harder to keep track of movement toward the goal when the effort is inconsistent.

On the other hand, if you know there are no excuses or compromises on completing twenty miles today (or being profitable again this year, or whatever), you’ll know exactly how you’re doing. When you’re motivated, you’ll crush the twenty miles. When you’re not, you know it’s only twenty. You can make the goal public, and others can help motivate you.

What makes Jim Collins’ work so fascinating to me is that it’s all about discipline. Disciplined reasoning, disciplined thought, and disciplined choices. Focus and discipline are what leads to success. And so much of being disciplined, and successful, is just showing up.

So today, show up. Twenty miles, and only twenty, no matter what. And tomorrow. And the next day…


[1] I have done zero rigorous research on this…


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Craig A. Escamilla
Craig A. Escamilla
Craig Escamilla helps you find solutions before problems exist. With fifteen years of consulting, teaching, and senior management experience, Craig brings a wealth of practical expertise to helping others work on rather than in their businesses.

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