Climbing in Business
lessons from the climbing world
You go on an expedition with a group of strangers. You trust one of them with your life on a belay. How can we do this there but at work we constantly question one another and sometimes lie? After climbing many big hills, three lessons stand out that I apply in business on a daily basis. For what it is worth here they are:
Is it hard or impossible?
My right foot slips causing me to swing across the vertical rock wall at 20,000'. Smooth rock above, death below. As I settle against the wall, I look up and then I look down. Turn back? Quit? Is this really, really hard or simply impossible? The ultimate question I use during climbs to evaluate if I should turn back or keep going.
In business we hit issues all the time that seem impossible to overcome. It seems like on a daily basis I hear someone say, "This is impossible!" A sales goal. A development schedule. A relationship. Is it hard or impossible?
Often when confronted with this simple question, we reflect on the goal. Is is still worthwhile? Do I really believe in it? Do I have the commitment and energy to stay with it until the end?
Are you hurt or hurting?
Organizations are like people. They are hurting and sometimes they are actually hurt. The trick is understanding the difference.
"I can't move my legs", Scott said quietly in his sleeping bag. I looked closely at the 17 year-old and asked him the obvious. "They sure are sore and it hurts to move." he said with a wince. With that I relaxed knowing that this young climber was learning the difference between being hurt and simply hurting.
We all go through this every day. Someone says something that bothers us. We say something we shouldn't. Business takes a turn for the worst and everything looks bleak. Do we give up simply because it we are hurting? Do we quit our job because we are hurting?
Or do we learn from the pain and go on?
Focus on the big picture while keeping the details in mind.
Everest expeditions are a true test of patience and logistics. A typical expedition requires tons of gear. Imagine feeding up to thirty people three meals a day for six weeks - all above 20,000 feet! Think about getting up and climbing several thousand feet to drop off gear and to get your body adjusted to the higher altitude just to return to where you started the next day.
Staying focused on the goal while managing the details is the issue.
In business, we often fall into the trap of making the daily tactics the strategy or making the strategy the daily details. We forget that we must have balance of the two. If you focus on getting food and water just for that day and not preparing for the difficult future, then when that times comes, you struggle to accomplish the goal - or worse high up on a big mountain.