Are You Good or Great, Auntie?
Aunties, do you want to be good? Or do you want to be great? No pressure.
Author Jim Collins, who wrote Good to Great among other titles, has posed the same question for years. His work usually centers on what makes a company great, but as Collins pointed out during a recent conference I attended, you can use the same qualities to live a great life.
“Good is the enemy of great,” Collins said. “Greatness is not a circumstance.”
Rather, greatness takes conscious choice along with fanatic discipline, empirical creativity, and productive paranoia.
To explore these characteristics, Collins points to two explorers racing to reach the South Pole in October 1911.
Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and British explorer Robert Falcon Scott led separate expeditions to the South Pole. Amundsen reached the South Pole by the day he planned and made it safely back to civilization. Scott reached the South Pole after Amundsen, but he and everyone on his expedition died 11 miles away from their supply depot on the way back.
Scott wanted to use a “disruptive technology” of the day – electric sledges, which hadn’t been tested in freezing temperatures. The motors froze up so Scott decided to use ponies. Because ponies sweat and the sweat became ice, the ponies died horrible deaths. Scott and his men then opted to haul all of their equipment themselves. During days of bad weather, they stayed in their tents.
Amundsen, on the other hand, went to live with the Eskimos and see how they did things. The Eskimos showed him how they used dogs, and he opted to use dogs, sleds, and skis. The group didn’t mark the supply depot they needed on their way back with one simple flag like Scott did. Instead, Amundsen practiced healthy amounts of humility and paranoia by planting smaller flags for a 10-mile radius leading up to their supply depot.
Amundsen’s team had a goal of making 15 to 20 miles each day, and on days with bad weather, the team still moved forward a few miles. In their journals, Scott described horrible, blizzard conditions that kept his people huddled in their tents, and Amundsen simply described the weather as “unpleasant.”
As he neared the South Pole, Amundsen could have asked his team to go the last 40 miles instead of their usual amount, but he stopped them 17 miles away from their destination so that they wouldn’t be overextended. “You also need the discipline to not go too far on good days,” says Collins.
Each day, we should consistently work on our own version of the 20-Mile March, like Amundsen. “Mediocrity is chronic inconsistency,” Collin said
To determine what your 20-Mile March should be, you need to find what Collins calls your hedgehog – that one big thing you’re truly passionate about. Once you know your hedgehog, commit to your 20-Mile March each day.
Let’s say writing is your hedgehog. You can commit to writing so many pages a day or so many words; and when you reach your limit, be like Amundsen, and stop for the day. Committing to your own 20-Mile March is also a great way to model persistence and goal-setting for your nieces and nephews.
Collins also suggested something I’ve told my organizing clients for years – have a to-do list and a “stop” to-do list. “If you have more than three priorities, then nothing is a priority,” he said.
Build white space into your calendar so you have time for thinking and creating. When you do spend time thinking and creating, turn off your electronic devices. It’s hard to be creative when you keep answering the ping of new email.
When you’re spending time with your nieces and nephews, put away the laptop and smart phone if you’re not using technology together.
As Collins says, “Make something you care about great. It’s impossible to have meaningful work without a meaningful life.”
Published: June 11, 2012