Monday, August 6, 2012

"Fanatic Discipline"

In his latest book, Great by Choice, Jim Collins planted a seed in my mind regarding his concept of a "20 mile march" that I would now like to plant in yours. 

According to Collins, a good 20 mile march uses performance markers that delineate a lower bound of acceptable achievement. They create productive discomfort, much like physical training or rigorous mental development, and must be challenging (*but not impossible) to achieve in difficult times. A good 20 mile march also has self-imposed constraints. This creates the upper bound for how far you'll march when facing robust opportunity and exceptionally good conditions. These contraints should also produce discomfort in the face of pressures and fears that you should be going faster and doing more. Think of this image, two men, both on a quest to walk from California to New York. The first, wakes up early on day one - seeing sunshine and feeling energized by the journey ahead he sprints out and completes nearly 40 miles on the first day. The second, decided each day he will awake at 7am, eat a full breakfast, and walk 10 miles before stopping for lunch and ten more after lunch before his dinner. He will complete 20 miles and stop at 20 miles each day no matter what. The second day, a terrible rain storm sets in, the first man tired from his day one 40 miles says "I will rest today and start again tomorrow" - only to wake on day 3 and 4 with blisters and aches from overdoing it on day one - he doesn't go out again until day seven. The second man, gets up - repeats his routine - and completes 20 miles a day... you can easily see that the second man will reach New York long before the first - and I have some doubt the first will ever make it. It is easy to sprint when all the conditions are perfect for us, it is very difficult to have the discipline to run regardless of the conditions. 

You must pay attention to the details...regardless of how small they might appear...and make sure that you accomplish "20 miles of marching each day" to accomplish the targets that were set. In MPS's quest to be world class, and to achieve the coveted Baldrige Award, we set out on a journey of 20 mile marches nearly two years ago. Throughout this time, some targets were not open for debate - you simply did them, for example, we set out to complete 10 classroom walkthrough observation visits a week - every administrator in the district agreed to this target. The thinking was we need to become fanatically disciplined with our time to make sure our visits were complete and of high quality. This would later become the springboard for new targets based on the data collected from nearly 30,000 walkthrough visits. Despite pressure to do more - or skip ahead, we remained focused on doing what we said we would do, the lower bounds set - 10 walkthroughs a week by each - and resisted the urge to jump forward, - the upper bound.

Ultimately, if you want to be a 'beat-the-odds' organization, you can't rely on silver-bullet reform initiatives from the Federal or State Departments, you can't put any hope into finding the 'perfect program' for reading, or math, you must instead take action - decide on the 20 mile march targets, pick good programs and instill fanatic discipline to make them perfect! Lastly, remember results take time - sometimes longer than you or I would want (or our Board's of Education) but we must stick with it despite pressure or feelings that we should abandon our march for something else that 'might' look better.