We’re only at the halfway mark, and 2020 has been a real challenge. Our best-laid plans have been cast in doubt by a pandemic for which the foreshadowing occurred one century ago. The economic impact of the larger crisis has cost many of us opportunities that seemed so certain, and at the same time, presents opportunities we could not have or have yet to imagine. During this transformational time, I find myself looking back a century for a bit of inspiration.
Many of you are no doubt familiar with the exploits of the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, popularized of late by James C. Collins in his book Great by Choice. For those who don’t know the mythology, it is said the Amundsen and his team succeeded in their remarkable, first-ever trek to the South Pole in 1911 by employing a simple yet dogged strategy. They edged out the fierce competition for this first, ostensibly by committing to a goal of marching 20 miles per day, no matter the conditions. In fair weather, they marched 20 miles, but no further so as not to overextend themselves. In the foulest weather, they maintained their goal, 20 miles, no matter how arduous.
And so they went, chipping away at their journey until they had reached their goal with fanatic discipline, well ahead of a competing team. Their worthy adversaries, led by Robert Falcon Scott, were said to have taken a different approach, marching as far as they could when conditions were good, and hunkering down to rest during the most difficult weather. Unfortunately, this approach cost Scott’s team not only its prize but their lives in the process. The lesson of the “20-mile march” is clear; consistency and discipline, especially in times of adversity, lead to long-term success. It is in this telling of a century-old adventure that we find some wisdom and inspiration to guide us on our own march through 2020.
Ford Motor Company likely had a goal of selling roughly 75,000 vehicles in 2020, which was established at a time when unemployment nationally was under 4% and well before the onset of a pandemic and resultant economic crisis that wiped out millions of jobs very nearly overnight. Yet they continue to work toward that goal with an adjustment in tactics, focused on mitigating one of the greatest obstacles to making a big purchase in a time of uncertainty and fear. Ford’s Promise Initiative, which is intended to assuage the leading fear for those considering such a large purchase, states that should the consumer lose their job within a year of purchasing a vehicle, Ford will buy it back. By addressing the fear of uncertainty, Ford continues its march.
Speaking of unemployment, we’ve all experienced how hard it is to find great talent with unemployment below 4%. Amundsen’s journey to the pole, remember, was not a solo effort. Harvard Business School’s Claudio Fernández-Aráoz  suggests, among other things, forming a recruitment task force to take advantage of this once-in-a-century availability of talent. In addition, he reminds us not to neglect the retention and development of in-house talent. In short, it may be a great time to strengthen the team that will march forward with you now and through the recovery.
In the restaurant industry, among the hardest hit by the trials of 2020, some have demonstrated remarkable determination to march on. With in-restaurant dining in limbo, in addition to traditional takeout, some are now offering heat-and-eat dishes that aren’t well suited to “takeout,” as well as fresh meal kits that sheltering families can prepare together at home. It will be interesting to see how many of these new approaches take hold and become additional sources of revenue as our new normal emerges.
Take care to avoid standing still during this storm that is 2020. Muster your determination and creativity to shape your own march, and you too may land on something that transforms your enterprise. It’s also worth noting that Roald Amundsen’s triumph in reaching the South Pole was not even his initial goal. He had been fascinated with the North Pole since childhood, but others had already reached it. In reflecting on his achievement, Amundsen commented, “Never has a man achieved a goal so diametrically opposed to his wishes.” His greatest success, it seems, was one he hadn’t even imagined.
Keep marching, and come 2021, we’ll toast one another with some lemonade.
- Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, “Now Is an Unprecedented Opportunity to Hire Great Talent,” Harvard Business Review, May 1, 2020.
Dr. Bill Cardoso is CEO of Creative Electron.