MCR-015: Getting Lucky — Lessons from the South Pole

by Jesse Lahey on February 10, 2012

Taking an observation at the Pole.

Taking an observation at the Pole.

Getting Lucky

In his latest book, Great by Choice, Jim Collins and his research team analyze why some companies are able to thrive even in difficult circumstances and unstable environments — for example, how did Southwest Airlines have huge growth and profitably from 1972-2002, a period when most other airlines were struggling and even going bankrupt?

A common notion is that companies like Southwest have a lot more good luck. Collins’ team discovered that’s not true … they did not generally have more luck than other companies in their situation. Instead, they made their own luck — largely through a combination of planning and discipline.

This myth of “good luck” doesn’t just apply to large corporations — it applies to life! Making your own luck can revolutionize your work, your finances, your love life, your health, and your family.

A key analogy in Great by Choice is the true story of Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott, who led teams that set out within days of each other in October 1911, in a race to become the first explorers to reach the South Pole. Amundsen’s team not only reached the South Pole more than a month faster, but it was the only team to return alive. The difference between the approaches taken by Amundsen and Scott — who were of similar ages and with comparable experience — illustrate the principle of making your own luck.

Here are three lessons from the South Pole to help you get lucky:

  1. Take responsibility and take action.

    Never forget that you are not the victim of your circumstances. You are still ultimately in control of your life and happiness. As Kent Julian teaches, unsuccessful people believe that E = O (the Events that happen to me create the Outcomes in my life). But successful people know that E + R = O … Events plus Response = Outcomes. Scott’s journal entries show that he frequently complained about about weather and bad luck; Amundsen’s philosophy was to presume bad events might strike his team along the way, so he prepared for them rather than waiting for “bad luck” to strike.

  1. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

    Be optimistic, but assume plan ahead so that you are prepared to deal with bad things that could happen. For example, Scott was devastated when his team’s only altitude-measuring thermometer broke; Amundsen brought four thermometers to cover for accidents.

  2. Follow the discipline of the 20 Mile March.

    Have a goal for regular progress that you achieve no matter what, but set an upper-limit so you don’t over-extend yourself. In his race to the South Pole, Admunsen’s team traveled 15-20 miles every day, regardless of whether the weather or other circumstances were favorable. “In contrast, Scott would sometimes drive his team to exhaustion on good days and then sit in his tent and complain about the weather on bad days.”

“Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.” — Roald Amundsen, The South Pole

Marriage Moment: Give and You Shall Receive

One of the ways many guys can make their own luck is by investing in your woman … little things to express love to your wife. If you’re married, your wife can have a huge impact on your life and your happiness — therefore, marriage is one area where you should be putting the three Getting Lucky lessons into action.

Adriana LimaThe 2012 Super Bowl commercial for Teleflora featuring super-model Adriana Lima expressed it well: “Give and you shall receive” — of course, as a commerical for flowers, its focus was materialistic. But it is pretty likely that if you frequently give your wife authentic signals that you love her, you will receive great sex, great friendship, and a great partner for life. That’s getting lucky!

Last month on, Joshua Gordon issued a challenge to men to write a love note every week to their wife. That’s one way to put the 20 Mile March into effect, building up deposits in your wife’s emotion bank account which will help weather the storms that life will surely send your way.

One way that Jesse follows the 20 Mile March principle is a goal to take Erin on a date (almost) every week. Often it is a no-cost or low-cost date … a walk, a visit to a neighbor’s house, a dessert or coffee at a coffee shop. Other times it is mid-priced (lunch at a restaurant), or higher-priced (dinner at a restaurant) … and 3-4 times a year, we splurge for a night or two at a hotel or bed-and-breakfast.

A lot of guys feel intimidated by the notion that their wife needs frequent signs of their love. In movies and TV, we see guys who plan super-romantic events for their women. As Jesse and Erin discuss in this segment, it doesn’t have to be fancy or well-planned … just some time to enjoy and focus solely on your wife.

Man Toy: Bio Lite Camp Stove

The BioLite ($130) is a compact, portable stove that burns sticks, twigs, and pine cones instead of gas, so you don’t have to carry fuel with you when camping. Use it to cook food and boil water — and use its USB port to charge your gadgets or power an LED light.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Good February 12, 2012 at 8:41 am

Hey Jesse and J. J.,
I enjoyed the show and the bit on the race to the South Pole was very interesting. It would have taken real discipline on those nice days not to have gone more than 20 miles.

Reply February 17, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Hey Michael, good to hear from you! I talked about your blog on episode 16, because I was still thinking about the 20 Mile March when I read a post you read about managing your work schedule. I agree that it would have taken real discipline on nice days in Antarctica to not travel more than 20 miles, just like it takes discipline for me to not keep working into the evening when my workload is heavy!


Michael Good February 17, 2012 at 5:28 pm

Jesse, thanks for the shout out! I appreciate it. I like the idea of applying it to a work day. It makes a lot of sense.


Christopher Battles February 14, 2012 at 1:34 am

Nice variety in this show (as always) and how everything tied together well. The title is funny. The interview with the wife what on a lunch date gave a nice feel to the show. The insight of going to the South Pole was good. It applies to all areas. Be consistent.
Thank you gentlemen for this show.

K, bye

Reply February 17, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Christopher, thanks for the feedback. I’m glad the lunch-date part worked out nicely; sometimes I think guys believe we have to do perfectly romantic dates, and if we’re not that good at them, we stop doing them very often.


ManCaveRadio April 28, 2012 at 8:15 pm

Update: Don’t miss the fantastic, comprehensive article published at about what we can learn from the Amundsen/Scott race to the South Pole:


ManCaveRadio May 17, 2012 at 8:24 am

A fun article with great pics and details related to the race to the South Pole, via  popmech :


ManCaveRadio May 17, 2012 at 8:32 am

Here is another interesting article from @popmech about the race to the South Pole:
Why the British Were Doomed to Lose the Race to the South Pole – 100th Anniversary of Reaching the South Pole
It’s interesting that the author says Scott “had a lot of bad luck” and “a combination of bad luck and poor choices.”


Leave a Comment