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How to Know How Far to Go: Business Lessons From the Mountains – Part I

Note: this original blog entry was posted in 2008. The lessons here still hold true.

I recently hiked two 4,000-foot peaks in the White Mountains.  This may not seem like a big deal to many – unless you’re afraid of heights like I am.   Regardless, I decided to join in on a trip in the White Mountains, thinking, and “How difficult could this be”?  What I learned is that there’s a big difference between walking or running seven miles and hiking seven miles! 

Call it blind faith or dumb luck….we made it there and back – and learned a few things along the way.

•             Lesson 1: Start with a Committed (and Experienced) Team

I knew that I would be with hikers who were more experienced than I was – one of our companions was looking to complete his list of “4,000’ Peaks Climbed”.  In fact, the reason that I had signed up for this hike was to join a friend of mine – a nice way to spend a Saturday, right? When we arrived at the trailhead, it was cold, damp, foggy and rainy.  Two of our members (including my friend) opted to stay back and enjoy a warm fire and lunch and drinks at a nearby restaurant.  I decided to continue on and do the hike with 6 other strangers.  After all, it was only seven miles, the rain had stopped and I figured we’d be home before dinner.

•             Lesson 2: Be Ready for the Pitfalls

As we prepared for our journey, each hiker shared thoughts about the upcoming adventure.  The experienced hikers talked about routes, rain, wind, and fog. The novices (like me) talked about bathroom facilities, warm clothes and lunch. We were all anxious to get started.  Little did we know what was ahead of us.  John Assaraf of “The Secret” fame  describes the road to achievement and self-development much like driving a car in the dark: you may not be able to see what lies beyond the range of your headlights, but as you come closer, you can see more clearly. We were ready.

•             Lesson 3: Take Things as They Come

We planned to cover two 4,000 foot peaks in the White Mountains: Mt. Osceola and its counterpart, East Osceola. We scaled the first peak and forged ahead.  Stepping over rocks and trying to stay on eroded paths, we encountered unpredictable trail conditions.  At each turn and elevation, the terrain presented a new challenge (especially for the novices in the group, like me), and we plodded along, chattering the entire way. I noticed that when the chatter stopped, the terrain became more treacherous – a sign that we needed to pay more attention to what was ahead.

•             Lesson 4:  Find Your Own Pace

The hiking group included novice and seasoned hikers alike.  As time went on, the more seasoned hikers trudged ahead of the rest of the group, acting like scouts who returned to report what was ahead.  It was not unusual for others in the group to drop back and wait for those of us who moved more slowly across the challenging terrain. We developed a kind of rhythm throughout the day, with smaller groups moving together, each at our own pace.

Have you conquered a challenge and applied it to business? What sort of business lessons have you learned?

One Comment for this Post
  • Star
    February 15, 2012 at 11:12 pm

    Love your rendition of this story and the lessons learned!

    Being the one who opted to stay behind and stay dry, I realize in hindsight, my lesson.
    I had hiked with this group of experienced hikers before and knew they had a tendency to over plan and under estimate.
    While I couldn’t put my finger exactly on what it was that morning, there was something off which made me opt out, and the rainy sealed my decision.
    In hindsight and on review, I remembered a hike with this group that we got lost and didn’t return till well after dark and many times estimates were longer than stated and the difficulty of trails were more than stated. I wasn’t worried about you because I knew there were six of you and this group of boy scouts plus, could deal with any emergencies that could of come up.

    My Lessons:
    Trust your instincts first and if possiblelater back them up with data.
    Use your past experience to predict and plan for new projects and opportunities.

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