3 Questions You Must Ask to Be Great

Last Thursday morning, I had the privilege of listening to Jim Collins speak at the World Business Forum in New York. Jim Collins is the bestselling author of business books like Good to Great – and he has 12 questions you must answer to make that switch.

You can check out all 12 here – but these are 3 that I thought were especially powerful. And since the theme of this year’s WBF was stories, Collins had 3 incredible stories to go with them.

1. What is your 20-Mile March?

In October 1911, two explorers lined up on the coast of Antarctica with one goal: to be the first in history to reach the South Pole. Norwegian Roald Amundsen and British Robert Falcon Scott left within days of each other. But Scott arrived 34 days after Amundsen, and everybody on his team died just 11 miles away from a supply depot. Amundsen made history as the first to reach the South Pole. Everybody on his team made it out alive.

How can two similar people facing the exact same conditions have such drastically different results? The answers lies in the diaries of both explorers.

As it turned out, Scott did what a lot of us do: he made major progress on clear days, but on days with bad weather (and there are a lot of them) he and his team rested. But Amundsen’s team trekked 20 miles each day, no matter what, battling blizzards and frostbite and everything in between.

This 20-mile march is a hallmark of many great companies. Pixar puts out 3 films every 2 years. A new version of the iPhone comes out every year. These companies stand above the rest because they commit to their 20-mile march NO MATTER WHAT. The 20-mile march is powerful because it keeps you both focused on what you have to do today, but it does so in a way that’s sustainable over time. It’s both short-term AND long-term.

Collins has a personal 20-mile march: to log 1000 creative hours a year. Some days he has 0, some days he has 7. But no matter what, on December 31st, he has logged 1000 creative hours.

“The true signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.”

What is your 20-mile march – for your company, and for yourself?

2. What is your BHAG?

No doubt you’ve heard of BHAGs – Big Hairy Audacious Goals. It’s one of the best ways to stimulate progress — and to have the best people, you need the biggest BHAGs. And if you know with 100% certainty that you’ll complete it, it’s not a BHAG.

On May 15, 2007, top free-climber Tommy Caldwell decided that his BHAG was to free-climb the Dawn Wall of El Capitan. It was said to be impossible. When you free-climb, you have a rope to catch you when you fall, but otherwise you climb only on the power of your fingers, hands and feet. And some some of the holds on the Dawn Wall are so small you can’t see them in daylight – you have to climb when it’s dark and use the contrast from your headlamp.

By the summer of 2012, Caldwell had made several attempts at his BHAG, failing every time. So Collins asked him — why are you wasting your best rock-climbing years on this quest when all it’s doing is making you fail?

Caldwell replied, “I am not failing. I am growing. The climb is making me stronger.”

That’s the point. That’s what a BHAG does. It stimulates progress and focus. It makes you grow and makes the little climbs so easy.

2801 days after that May day, Caldwell finally summited the Dawn Wall – but that’s not the end of the story. Because Caldwell had a partner, Kevin Jorgenson. Caldwell was far enough that everybody knew he would summit the wall in one day. It was January and they’d had a streak of incredible weather, but one falling ice sheet could ruin Caldwell’s quest yet again. But Jorgenson was still stuck 500 feet down the mountain.

So Caldwell went back to spend and extra week helping Jorgenson – and the crossed the finish line together.

When you have a BHAG, you commit to the idea that you only succeed by helping each other succeed.

3. How can you increase your return on luck?

How much does luck matter in success? In the end, are the big winners actually luckier?

Collins and his team decided to find out  – and the answer was no. Everybody gets luck, both good and bad, in abundance. The difference? The big winners get a higher return on luck.

In other words, what matters is what you do with the luck you get. 50% of great leadership is what you do with the unexpected. And crucially, the most powerful kind of luck is not “what luck” but “who luck” – that of a great friend, spouse, or especially a great mentor.

Imagine you’re a minor league pitcher watching a game at Yankee Stadium – and the real pitcher doesn’t show up. The great mentor is the one who puts you on the mound, suggests they try you out and gives you a once-in-a-lifetime shot at pitching for the Yankees. He says that if you throw a great game, you get to pitch again. But you’re the one who has to pitch  — and keep pitching.

Luck favors the persistent, and nowhere is that more evident in the story of Steve Jobs. In 1988, Collins taught Steve Jobs and asked him to come speak to his class. At the time, Jobs had been fired from Apple and was essentially the pariah of the tech world. But you would never have guessed from his lecture, because Jobs woke up every day and went to work. He was never going to stop because this is what he was made to do. And when the failing Apple needed an operating system, Jobs’s company happened to have the exact one they needed.

Jobs only succeeded because he didn’t give up after he was dealt a bad hand. He saw life as series of hands, and played every single one to the best of his ability – and look how well it worked for him.

“True creators stay in the game and there are going to be times that you’re going to be knocked on your back looking up and you’ve got to get back in the game because you don’t know what’s coming around the corner.” 

Liked this? Check out Why You Shouldn’t Fear Failure!

Written by Sasha Graffagna

Photo Credit: ryanmilani via Compfight cc

Last Thursday morning, I had the privilege of listening to Jim Collins speak at the World Business Forum in New York. Jim Collins is the bestselling author of business books like Good to Great – and he has 12 questions you must answer to make that switch.

You can check out all 12 here – but these are 3 that I thought were especially powerful. And since the theme of this year’s WBF was stories, Collins had 3 incredible stories to go with them.

1. What is your 20-Mile March?

In October 1911, two explorers lined up on the coast of Antarctica with one goal: to be the first in history to reach the South Pole. Norwegian Roald Amundsen and British Robert Falcon Scott left within days of each other. But Scott arrived 34 days after Amundsen, and everybody on his team died just 11 miles away from a supply depot. Amundsen made history as the first to reach the South Pole. Everybody on his team made it out alive.

How can two similar people facing the exact same conditions have such drastically different results? The answers lies in the diaries of both explorers.

As it turned out, Scott did what a lot of us do: he made major progress on clear days, but on days with bad weather (and there are a lot of them) he and his team rested. But Amundsen’s team trekked 20 miles each day, no matter what, battling blizzards and frostbite and everything in between.

This 20-mile march is a hallmark of many great companies. Pixar puts out 3 films every 2 years. A new version of the iPhone comes out every year. These companies stand above the rest because they commit to their 20-mile march NO MATTER WHAT. The 20-mile march is powerful because it keeps you both focused on what you have to do today, but it does so in a way that’s sustainable over time. It’s both short-term AND long-term.

Collins has a personal 20-mile march: to log 1000 creative hours a year. Some days he has 0, some days he has 7. But no matter what, on December 31st, he has logged 1000 creative hours.

“The true signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.”

What is your 20-mile march – for your company, and for yourself?

2. What is your BHAG?

No doubt you’ve heard of BHAGs – Big Hairy Audacious Goals. It’s one of the best ways to stimulate progress — and to have the best people, you need the biggest BHAGs. And if you know with 100% certainty that you’ll complete it, it’s not a BHAG.

On May 15, 2007, top free-climber Tommy Caldwell decided that his BHAG was to free-climb the Dawn Wall of El Capitan. It was said to be impossible. When you free-climb, you have a rope to catch you when you fall, but otherwise you climb only on the power of your fingers, hands and feet. And some some of the holds on the Dawn Wall are so small you can’t see them in daylight – you have to climb when it’s dark and use the contrast from your headlamp.

By the summer of 2012, Caldwell had made several attempts at his BHAG, failing every time. So Collins asked him — why are you wasting your best rock-climbing years on this quest when all it’s doing is making you fail?

Caldwell replied, “I am not failing. I am growing. The climb is making me stronger.”

That’s the point. That’s what a BHAG does. It stimulates progress and focus. It makes you grow and makes the little climbs so easy.

2801 days after that May day, Caldwell finally summited the Dawn Wall – but that’s not the end of the story. Because Caldwell had a partner, Kevin Jorgenson. Caldwell was far enough that everybody knew he would summit the wall in one day. It was January and they’d had a streak of incredible weather, but one falling ice sheet could ruin Caldwell’s quest yet again. But Jorgenson was still stuck 500 feet down the mountain.

So Caldwell went back to spend and extra week helping Jorgenson – and the crossed the finish line together.

When you have a BHAG, you commit to the idea that you only succeed by helping each other succeed.

3. How can you increase your return on luck?

How much does luck matter in success? In the end, are the big winners actually luckier?

Collins and his team decided to find out  – and the answer was no. Everybody gets luck, both good and bad, in abundance. The difference? The big winners get a higher return on luck.

In other words, what matters is what you do with the luck you get. 50% of great leadership is what you do with the unexpected. And crucially, the most powerful kind of luck is not “what luck” but “who luck” – that of a great friend, spouse, or especially a great mentor.

Imagine you’re a minor league pitcher watching a game at Yankee Stadium – and the real pitcher doesn’t show up. The great mentor is the one who puts you on the mound, suggests they try you out and gives you a once-in-a-lifetime shot at pitching for the Yankees. He says that if you throw a great game, you get to pitch again. But you’re the one who has to pitch  — and keep pitching.

Luck favors the persistent, and nowhere is that more evident in the story of Steve Jobs. In 1988, Collins taught Steve Jobs and asked him to come speak to his class. At the time, Jobs had been fired from Apple and was essentially the pariah of the tech world. But you would never have guessed from his lecture, because Jobs woke up every day and went to work. He was never going to stop because this is what he was made to do. And when the failing Apple needed an operating system, Jobs’s company happened to have the exact one they needed.

Jobs only succeeded because he didn’t give up after he was dealt a bad hand. He saw life as series of hands, and played every single one to the best of his ability – and look how well it worked for him.

“True creators stay in the game and there are going to be times that you’re going to be knocked on your back looking up and you’ve got to get back in the game because you don’t know what’s coming around the corner.” 

Liked this? Check out Why You Shouldn’t Fear Failure!

Written by Sasha Graffagna

Photo Credit: ryanmilani via Compfight cc

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