The ability to turn back

A few weeks ago I was in the audience with my friend Manuel listening to Kilian Jornet share his life story.  At the age of 26, Kilian projects the profound wisdom of a Zen sage.  The mountains are a powerful teacher.

Kilian will run up and down Everest in 2015.  Yep, run up it.  He has already set the world records for running up and down 3 of the highest mountains in the world.

Everest is not the most dangerous mountain in the world (that is probably K2 – 1 climber death for every 4 who have reached the summit).  Everest is not the most difficult mountain in the world.  It is the highest.  It is dangerous – if you climb it today there are approximately 200 dead bodies along the route (source).

There is a saying that an alpine climber is not a true alpine climber until he could turn back at 10 meters from a summit because the weather is not right.  I certainly do not have that discipline in my climbing of mountains.  I don’t have that discipline in my other field of endeavour: entrepreneurship.

photo credit: e-nfocs
View of Mount Pedraforca, photo credit: e-nfocs

5 years ago I was with my friend Jordi on Mount Pedraforca.  We reached 300m from the summit when the weather really began to change.  Dark clouds moved in, thunder and lightning surrounded us – many of the lightening flashes visible not above us, but down in the clouds below where we were resting.  We discussed heading back and not achieving the summit, but the call of the summit was too much.  We climbed up.

We made it back down.  However, it was a case of the emotional desire to reach summit being stronger than a completely objective analysis of our options.

What does it take to reach this level of objective detachment in my decision making?  When do you know that the best decision is to walk away and let the business fail?  When do you know that the right decision is to keep waiting for another opportunity?

  • “In nature there are no rewards or punishments, there are consequences.” Mick Halligan (Tweet This)
  • “Mountains have a way of dealing with overconfidence.” Hermann Buhl (Tweet This)
  • “Mountains are not fair or unfair, they are just dangerous.” Reinhold Messner (Tweet This)
  • “It’s a round trip. Getting to the summit is optional, getting down is mandatory.” Ed Viesturs (Tweet This)

My Professor of Decision Analysis during my MBA at IESE Business School was Manel Baucells.  He said that you must define the criteria for walking away from a project before you begin and you must commit to walking away when those criteria are met.  I know he is right, but we need to work on the emotional attachment that we will gain because of our nature as human beings.  Microsoft Excel can clearly see “sunk costs”, but human being me is not so good at discounting them from the decision.

I’ll finish with a beautiful quote on how mountains clarify: 

“Climbing is the lazy man’s way to enlightenment. It forces you to pay attention, because if you don’t, you won’t succeed, which is minor — or you may get hurt, which is major. Instead of years of meditation, you have this activity that forces you to relax and monitor your breathing and tread that line between living and dying. When you climb, you always are confronted with the edge. Hey, if it was just like climbing a ladder, we all would have quit a long time ago.” Duncan Ferguson.

What have you done to detach emotionally from decisions?

Quotes taken from http://www.gdargaud.net/Humor/QuotesClimbingSerious.html

One response to “The ability to turn back”

  1. Great insight on defining your “stopping rule” in advance. I have blogged about it but not as eloquently:

    Also this quote
    “In nature there are no rewards or punishments, there are consequences.”
    is Robert Ingersoll in “Some Reasons Why” (1881)
    Section VIII “The New Testament” online at http://www.sacred-texts.com/aor/ing/vol02/i0133.htm

What are your thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: