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The Incremental March

The Incremental March

In 1911-12 there was a legendary race to the South Pole between Brit Robert Scott and Norwegian Roald Amundsen.

The race and adventure were fettered with many unforeseen challenges for both camps. But critically it was preparation, operations and mindset that determined the victors, the Norwegian camp. These elements also cost the Brits their lives.

Amundsen mandated his team that they were to unconditionally complete a 20-mile march each day. Through fair and horrendous weather they marched on. They showed great discipline in all weather conditions, restraint on good weather days and resilience on blinding snow days.

Scott's team varied their daily treks. Clocking in more miles on good weather and bunkering down when the weather was horrible.

Amundsen's 20-mile march afforded the team a clearer expensing of supplies but it also fostered a strong mentality and team bond through grit. When a group allows the environment to dictate variability and discretionary targets, it invites discussion and a need for group consensus. When the going gets tough, invariably people complain and express resistance. Under constant pressure, the body and mind unravel. The team's morale gets attacked and in-fighting often ensues.

When we give up on what little control we have, we become powerless and are at the whims of the environment. We become a variable with no fixed value, an unsolvable equation because we didn't set a stake in the ground and create our operational boundaries.

The work sequence is input-process-output.

Usually, we can only control the effort inputs and process quality. In the case of the 20-mile march, Amundsen's team collective commitment and undertaking of the daily march was both input and process. The incremental output of the march eventually became the outcome, victory in the race to the South Pole.

Scott's team got to the South Pole 34 days later. Amundsen's focus on preparation and operational excellence allowed him and his team to control incrementalism towards not only their goal but crucially ensured they left the South Pole with their lives.

It's the incremental steps that accumulate into the journey.