Great by Choice
#2 Fanatical Discipline
“Victory awaits him who has everything in order. Luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time. This is called bad luck.” Roald Amundsen, South Pole explorer.
The authors graphically make their point by comparing the fanatical discipline demonstrated by Roald Amundsen in preparing for his South Pole expedition to the considerably less rigorous preparations of Robert Falcon Scott.
Amundsen rode his bike 2000 miles to condition his body. He lived with Eskimos (Innuit) to learn from them how to survive in extreme cold weather conditions. During this time he ate raw dolphin meat because he knew he might have to resort to an unaccustomed diet in untoward circumstances. To pull the sleighs, he decided to use dogs, knowing that if food ran short, he might have to kill some of the weaker animals to feed the strong ones.
Scott elected to use ponies and motorized sleighs. The ponies gave out under the strain of hard work and extreme cold weather. The engines cracked on his motorized sleighs. Consequently, he and his men had to pull the sleighs themselves. Scott brought only one thermometer and it broke. Amundsen brought four. The authors say “Amundsen and Scott had different behaviours, not different circumstances.”
Like Amundsen, the 10X companies chose to be risk averse. Understanding they would almost certainly encounter difficult circumstances at some point, possibly unexpectedly, they prepared with fanatical discipline for these potential “Black Swan” events. Like Amundsen who took plenty of extra food, the 10X companies built buffers that would enable them to survive, and even thrive, in the difficult times.
They understand that “it’s what you do before the storm arrives that determines how well you will do when it comes.” Collins and Morton found that 10X companies had 3-10 times the ratio of cash to reserves. They managed well in good times to do well in bad times. It is this approach that made Southwest Airlines the only airline to turn a profit in 2002.
Collins and Hanson say that leaders in the most successful companies know they face continuous uncertainty, but they reject the idea that outside forces or chaotic events will determine their results. They accept full responsibility for their own fate. They realize unanticipated adversity may strike at any moment. They exercise fanatical discipline so their company will be strong when circumstances turn against it.
Note: I recommend that you read “Great by Choice” to learn about the other 2 core practises of 10x companies: Empirical Creativity and Productive Paranoia. I will deal with the 20 Mile March concept soon. For our personal lives or in leadership roles, this is a good one.