Good planning brought this team to the South Pole and back in 1911.

Good planning brought this team to the South Pole and back in 1911.

In 1911, two teams set off on a race to reach the South Pole. In a time before GPS and helicopters, the teams’ survival depended on their wits, fortitude and foresight.

One group was led by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and the other  was led by British naval officer Robert Falcon Scott. Amundsen’s planning was painstaking and thorough: he studied Eskimo travel methods, learned what other Arctic explorers did, and charted a course involving a proven technology: dogsleds. He located supply depots along the way, invested in the best gear, and planned plenty of rest for his skilled team. All that planning worked. Amundsen’s team arrived on schedule with his team intact.

Scott, however, was a different story. Though he had supplies for four, at the last minute he added a fifth member. He used motorized sledges and ponies.  Five days into the trip, those motors stopped working, and a few weeks later the ponies had to be killed. His crew’s equipment was sub-par, and every member developed debilitating frostbite. His depots were inadequately stocked and too far apart. Scott’s team trekked a grueling 800 miles in 10 weeks, but when they arrived on January 17, 1912, they found a Norwegian flag and a note. The flag had been planted a month earlier.

The trek back was worse. Scott and every member of his team died on the way back. Frostbite, infection, dehydration and disorientation – all products of poor planning – killed them one by one.

Learn From Others. Whether I’m buying a house, creating a new app, or launching a new startup, I benefit from hearing from people who have done it before. I try to uncover mines so I can avoid them.

Continue Learning. Starting a business isn’t exactly like charting a course to the South Pole because most businesses find success only after changing their plan many times. Smart businesses constantly listen to customers to refine their business model until a successful model emerges. In practice, this means companies have many hypotheses which are tested using the scientific method. They A/B test their way to success.

Stock Up. Successful startups are often stingy and small early on, but once they’ve validated a business idea, they raise a ridiculous amount of money and grow as fast as possible. That’s wise. Many startup founders are wary of raising too much even after their business is validated, but doing otherwise is like Scott scrimping on gloves and goggles.

Spend Time & Energy Planning. Creating a 6-month, 1-year, and 3-year plan helps me figure out how to spend today. The process of making a plan involves talking to vendors, budgeting marketing expenses, and pre-planning as much as possible in advance.  Sometimes it seems like irrelevant work, but it ultimately alleviates a huge amount of stress to identify what I do and don’t know.

The South Pole story is from the book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell.

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