At The Global Leadership Summit, Jim Collins discussed the 3 behaviors you need in order to be great during chaos.
In October 1911, two teams of explorers set foot in Antarctica with the goal of being the first humans in history to reach the South Pole.
Robert Falcon Scott led the British expedition, and Roald Amundsen led the Norwegians. Both left the coast within days of each other. However, Amundsen reached the destination 34 days earlier than Scott and returned to the coast on the exact day that his team had penned in their journals before leaving. Scott and his team never made it back to the coast. Instead they all perished on their return trip from cold, exhaustion, and starvation.
So why do some enterprises survive and others don’t?
Why do some leaders prevail, while others fail to achieve greatness… or even fail outright?
The differences between the leadership behaviors of Amundsen and Scott map almost perfectly to the leadership that set apart the 10x companies (i.e., those that performed at levels at least 10 times better than their competitors in the most volatile industries).
There are 3 leadership behaviors you need when the world gets chaotic and unpredictable and things don’t go as planned.
1. Fanatic Discipline
Imagine you’re going to walk across the entire United States. One approach is to push hard when the conditions are good so that you can hunker down and wait out bad conditions. The other option is to push 20 miles every day, regardless of the weather.
When things are bad: You press toward your goal regardless of how bad things get.
When a severe blizzard hit both parties, Scott said, ”I doubt anyone could travel in these conditions.” Amundsen penned, ”It has been a hard day, but despite [hardship] we have advanced.”
When things are good: Don’t overextending yourself and make yourself vulnerable.
When nearing the pole, members of Amundsen’s team wanted to push hard to cover close to 40 miles in a single day. After all, they didn’t know if the other team was on the verge of beating them. Instead Amundsen marched 17 miles and rested for the day.
Casestudy: Southwest Airlines
- We will be profitable every year.
- We will manage ourselves well.
In 1996, when they had 100 cities clamoring for their service, how many new cities did they open? Four. It was their 20 mile march. They didn’t want to over extend themselves.
What’s your 20 mile march?
2. Empirical Creativity
Discipline alone is not enough. We must also create. We must find new way of doing things. So how do these 10xers innovate and create differently?
Scott loved big disruptive technology. His team was going to cross Antarctica in big motor sledges, but they hadn’t been empirically tested and soon ended up with cracked engine blocks. So Scott moved to plan B – pack ponies. But sweating ponies became frozen ponies in the -30 degree temperatures and gail force winds. Plan C was using shoulder harnesses and man-hauling their sleds the equivalent distance of Chicago to NYC and back.
Amundsen, on the other hand also loved innovation and was constantly tinkering and testing. But when it came to the big risks, he relied on the tried and true. Before the expedition, he chose to live with Eskimos, who taught him not to use ponies but dogs which don’t sweat, can pad on top of the snow, and who work as teams. This was an empirically validated model, based on 100s of years of people that had known what they are doing.
Fire bullets before cannonballs. Fire enough little bullets to ensure that the angle and trajectory (plan) works before using up your remaining gun powder on a cannonball. The companies that didn’t make the 10x list had a tremendous pension for blowing large amounts of resources on large uncalibrated cannonballs.
Intel beat their competition 30:1 by innovating at a rate half that of their peers (based on the filing of new patents). This does not mean that they stopped innovating but that they did so at a steady rate (discipline) combined with empirically based innovation.
Creativity is not the hard part. Discipline is. Creativity is natural (just look at a 5 year old) disciple is not. Creativity is infinitely renewable, the questions is not how to be creative but how to get rid of the stuff that is in the way.
Marry discipline to creativity in a way that amplifies creativity rather than reducing it.
3. Productive Paranoia
You have to be optimistic to lead, but you also you have to be prepared to deal with things when they going wrong. The 10x companies had 3-10 times the ratio of cash to assets to others. They started this when they were young. They did not say that it is a luxury of size. They became big because they were like this.
Both Amundsen and Scott planned ahead by creating supply depots. Amundsen multiplied an adequate number by a factor of 3. He also took the time to create 10km signal lines of each side of the supply depots as buffers incase they got caught in a blizzard.
It is what you do before you’re in trouble. It is how you manage with disciple in good times, so that you can be strong when people most need you.
Your decisions and actions should not be random, but based on empirical validation of what actually works and why.
Every church should had each SMaC (Specific, Methodical and Consistent) recipe and the discipline to follow it. Yet you should maintain a healthy level of paranoia that it might not work anymore in the near future. This causes you to simultaneously working to empirically innovate (slow), preserving the core (principles, values, etc.) while also stimulating progress.
And when bad things happen, you should take the time to zoom out to figure how to get the most out of the experience (good or bad).