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Discipline will define your 20-mile march

Progressive Cattleman Editor David Cooper Published on 24 December 2012

This past year, my colleagues and I at Progressive Publishing have been reading some of the history behind the explorer Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian who led the first modern exploration team to reach the South Pole.

At the age of 39, Amundsen took a five-man company 1,400 miles in a period of four months across the frigid Antarctic landscape, literally not knowing which hazards and dangers lay before them.

Preparations for the journey took years and painstaking detail. Amundsen had to envision any possible challenge that would come in a polar geography where temperatures routinely hit 20 degrees below zero.

Once upon their exhaustive journey, Amundsen’s plan was conducted in a rather restrained fashion. Each day the team’s travel progressed with a measured pace – they would go only 15 to 20 miles each day.

Whether they were met with bone-chilling winds or inviting clear blue skies, Amundsen’s outfit pushed ahead roughly the same distance in a pattern that rewarded constancy more than intensity.

This consistent endurance helped the team avoid exhaustion, uncertainty and disappointment. When they reached the pole on Dec. 15, 1911, Amundsen’s group celebrated, recorded the occasion and turned around for the return journey.

Using the same steely determination against the elements and their own ambition, they reached home base in 40 days – the precise date Amundsen had predicted before the journey began.

This principle, called the 20-mile march and described in Jim Collins’ book “Great by Choice,” was evident in the growth of several businesses in recent decades.

Collins examined several top companies in various industries and found all of these firms had purposely set consistent benchmarks for performance – and achieved them in spite of exterior forces working against them.

When growth was smooth and steady, they didn’t try to exceed their determined strategy. When challenges came, they didn’t wait for conditions to improve.

The authors found that a company’s 20-mile march builds the confidence to tackle adversity, reduces the risk of catastrophic disruption and enables you to exert self-control against uncertainty.

When applied to the beef industry, it’s obvious that the 20-mile march is already a part of the routine for many progressive cattlemen.

Heading into 2013, a host of ranchers find themselves in one of the driest spells in a generation. The droughts that punished the Southwest in 2011 and the Midwest in 2012 may not lighten up. Feed and fuel prices will also put doubt into the prospect of herd expansion.

But that dynamic also plays into the 20-mile march strategy. Self-imposed discipline for ag producers today means moving forward but not faster than you have strength or the industry can sustain.

Instead, there are ways to improve – in quality, service, adaptation of genetics and technology, personnel training, herd health – all components that will make cattle producers stronger this year than they were last year.

Whatever your 20-mile march may be, the key in 2013 will be to temper ambition with your struggles — and to let your discipline determine the final outcome.  end mark


David Cooper
Progressive Cattleman magazine