5 Things I learned in the Himalayas about business – Thing #3


3. There comes a time when you realize if you make a mistake, you are beyond help.

Business Translation: You will face business challenges that are life or death to your business, and you will face those challenges knowing a single mistake could end your business.

I had been trekking through the upper reaches of the Khumbu Valley in the Himalayas for almost two weeks. I’d been through small Sherpa villages, up and down the winding route to Mt Everest, across glacial moraine and ice fields, stood in Mt Everest basecamp absorbing the majestic views of the massive mountains. An adventure that had seemed on the crazy side of sanity at the beginning, with a sketchy landing at the world’s most dangerous airport followed by ever higher ascents into the Himalayan Mountain landscape, had now turned into a rhythm that seemed quite normal. The scariness of the whole thing had eased into comfortable and routine – in fact I looked forward to every day.

And so, as we trekked down out of Mt Everest basecamp and around the side to make a summit attempt on a lesser mountain, I was enjoying the experience and feeling cautiously optimistic about what lay ahead. I had done things daily that for me were either things I had never done before in my life or were new personal bests. And had succeeded at all of them. I felt confident. Having practiced walking across very thin looking ladders over small abysses, climbed from basecamp to high camp, I was eager to make an attempt on the Summit.

And that’s when it hit me.

Island Peak high camp
Realizing how high up I really am

I remember exactly where I was, and if I’m being honest, I also remember a shot of adrenaline-fueled fear punch me in the gut. Looking out of my tent at high camp, I realized that at 18,000ft/5486m on the side of steeply sloped, boulder strewn mountain, I was beyond any helicopter evacuation.

In fact, I intuitively knew a small climbing mistake that resulted in a sprained or broken ankle or a broken arm could mean the end of me. Above 18,000 ft it’s not like anyone has the strength to pick you up and carry you, not even the Sherpas. If you can’t move under your own power, that’s it. You become one with the mountain in a very real and tragic sense.

So, what did I do? Well, I was honest and admitted what I was doing was a risky thing. Something bad could actually happen. And while I was thinking about that I started doing all the myriad and miscellaneous things I knew I had to do in order to be ready to go. So when it came time to start towards the Summit, I just stepped out of the tent and started climbing. I wasn’t really thinking about the risk, I was just putting one foot in front of the other and focusing on the moment. Back to doing what I knew/believed would lead to success. I guess that’s what it comes down to when you’re faced with a big decision: Decide and Do.

What I learned about business from this is there will come a time when I’m faced with a decision that will be either survival or death for my business. Full disclosure: I haven’t been faced with one of those decisions yet……. My business partner and I are just getting started on our business journey. But I have watched executives at other businesses – some very large and global businesses – stare down life and death decisions for their business.

Florida tent in the Himalayas
Not many Floridians walk the upper reaches of the Himalayas – of course I had to leave my mark.

One company in particular I was surprised at how quickly they developed a plan to sell a new and untested technology which cannibalized their most profitable existing product line – a product line that accounted for a majority of their revenue. Not only did they move fast and throw all their financial resources into this unproven technology product, but they also had the entire company embrace this strategy. It seemed hasty and risky to me. At the time they were the dominant player in their market. Why would they jump at a new product that hadn’t proved itself at all, AND risk the entire company’s future?

Well, they did. And turns out they were right. In retrospect, it’s easy to see they were faced with a life and death decision. I have no way of knowing but I’d bet they were fully aware that a mistake would be the demise of their company. They were courageous, and they didn’t hesitate. And because of that, their company continued to prosper and be the leader even as the market dramatically shifted to this new technology.

I’ve always remembered that.

My hope is when I’m faced with a life and death business decision for my business, I will have the good judgement to choose the right course of action and the courage to do it without hesitating.

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