The 20 Mile March

What does it take to be great?

In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins and his team of researchers study how some companies rise to greatness and uncover a key strategy: the 20 Mile March. They asked the question, “Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not?”

They analyzed companies that were 10x better than the competition, and, across all the data, realized that they had something in common.

First, imagine, for a second, that you’ve got two teams walking across America.

The first team takes the strategy of walking 40-50 miles on the good days, and resting in between.

The second team decides to walk 20 miles every day, rain or shine, injuries or no injury.

Which team wins?

Consistent, methodical actions take you further.

The team — and the companies, and the individuals — that set up consistent, methodical, repeated actions go further. They go 10x further, in fact. The “20 Mile March” became a clear differentiator between those teams that flounder or stay where they are, and the ones that rise to greatness.

The person that crosses the finish line on a big goal or dream is the person that takes consistent action, with clear performance markers, on actions that are largely within your control.

In the book, there are seven elements of a good march, and those include:

  • Clear performance markers,
  • Self-imposed constraints,
  • Appropriateness to you (or the company),
  • largely within your control,
  • Proper timeframe,
  • Designed by the individual, and
  • Achieved with high consistency.

In my work with people in my private Mastermind, we do a three-month program where people put together a monthly goal, with self-imposed constraints, over a short enough time horizon to get feedback and learn.

Now is the time to learn.

In your own practice, what is your 20 Mile March?

For me, a weekly writing habit has been the cadre, or structure, or frame that has unlocked so much more. When I show up to write, it’s not a question of when I’ll write, or how much: it’s already pre-determined that I will write.

I’ll write {this much} at {this frequency} on {these specific days}.

What’s your recipe?

The trick to a 20-Mile March is to make it something you can do repeatedly, on a consistent pattern. Often, in my personal life, I’ll try to tackle a 60-mile march and then get frustrated when I’m tired a few weeks later and (sometimes literally) can’t get up out of bed because my muscles are too sore. A 20-Mile March is something you could do every day, easily, for a year.

Some ideas of 20-Mile Marches:

  • Writing a daily, short, free-form blog on Tumblr (here’s mine; I write a log whenever I need space to free-form think out loud)
  • Writing a weekly blog (this blog posts every Monday at 10am)
  • Writing a monthly newsletter on the 1st of every month (if you’re on my list, you’ll get the newsletter).
  • Doing a yoga practice 3 times per week
  • Simplifying to do a 5-minute yoga practice every morning
  • Emailing one new person every day for a year.
  • Weightlifting twice weekly for a year.

A 20-Mile March does not have to be a daily practice. But it does have to be a practice, and one that you dedicate to a specific time, place, and duration. The compound interest of showing up to practice with regularity is the work of mastery, and the work of moving mountains. Inch by inch, with steady practice, we become something new.

So, I’ll ask you all some of the questions I ask my Mastermind folks in our one-on-one session:

  • Are you taking clear and consistent action? Are you learning each month and building upon what you’ve learned?
  • What’s working?
  • What systems do you have in front of you?
  • What still needs to change?
  • How can you change strategies and tactics to keep showing up, piece by piece, to carve away at your dream?

PS: If you’re looking for an amazing seminar on marketing, persuasion, and creating change, I’m currently taking the inaugural session of The Marketing Seminar with Seth Godin. It’s beyond incredible; I’m likely going to take it again. The latest round of the seminar just opened for registration, July 10, 2017. Push the purple button and get a discount on the 30-day summer session.


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Also published on Medium.

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