Thursday, September 2, 2004

Mountain climbing and commitment

Business Times p.B1
Thursday, September 02, 2004

By Moje Ramos-Aquino, FPM
Mountain climbing and commitment

JIM COLLINS, the author of such important books as Built to Last and Good to Great, is an avid rock climber for more than 30 years and still climbs three to four days a week. In an article entitled “Leadership Lessons of a Rock Climber,” published in the business magazine Fast Company, Jim writes:

“We roped up and set off up the route, shooting for an ‘on-sight’ assent. [An on-sight means that on your first try, you lead the climb without prior information about the moves and without any artificial aid. Other climbers have not told you how to climb the difficult sections, nor have you watched anyone else attempt the route.] You get one chance for an on-sight. Once you start to climb, if you blow it and fall onto the rope, you’ve lost that chance forever.”

In one climb, Jim relates that when confronted with the moment of commitment, the moment of decision, the moment of go-for-it on the on-sight, he let go. Eventually he climbed to the top. “But of course, it didn’t count. I hadn’t done a clean on-sight. And even though later in the day, I managed to ascend the route from bottom to top in one shot—a success most measures—I had nonetheless failed. Not failed on the climb, but failed in my mind.”

Jim (Pardon the first name basis. I’ve met him in one ASTD Conference and he is a most lovable person, a Jim, not a Mr. Collins or Mr. Celebrity. The moment he entered the press room, he removed his shoes and answered our questions with lots of candor.) wishes he fell rather than he let go. Falling means “full commitment to go up—even if the odds of success are less than 20 percent, 10 percent, or even 5 percent. You leave nothing in reserve, no mental or physical resource untapped. You always give your full best—despite the fear, pain, lactic acid, and uncertainty. You never give yourself a psychological out: “I didn’t really give it everything. I might have made it with my best effort.

You only find your true limit when you fall, not let go. On the onsight—as with life—you don’t know what the next hold feels like. It’s the ambiguity—about the holds, the moves, the ability to clip the rope—that makes 100 percent commitment on an on-sight so difficult.”

I am happy to say that in my own climb two-thirds of the way to the peak of the Mount Maria Makiling I fell; I didn’t let go. Not knowing what was there for me, I climb eleven stations or seven stations behind Peak 2. Between Station 22 and 23, I literally had to be dragged and lifted by my teammates. It was reckless for me to climb on with my physical condition and I was jeopardizing the team’s chance of getting to the top.

Initially I wanted to let go, to simply walk with the other ladies to the mudspring—a simply 1,200 steps on very easy trail. But since this is a teambuilding workshop, we needed to take only one route and a stretch.

Jim quotes his mentor in life, Sara Little Turnbull: “”If you don’t stretch you don’t know where the edge is.”

Jim succinctly summarized his lesson learned on falling, not letting go. “I’ve even redefined ‘success’ less in terms of getting to the top and more in terms of the quality of my mental effort. During a recent climbing session, I did not get up a single route. Not one. Still, it was one of my most successful climbing ever because I chose to fall on every attempt, rather than let go. I felt good on the way home because my mind felt strong that day, compared to the weak feeling on most days. In the end, climbing is not about conquering the rock; it is about conquering yourself.”

Whatever, I intend to climb Mount Makiling again until I reach Peak 2. Or I would never know the feeling of having been there, done that. I wouldn’t be able to tell my future grandchildren the tale of Maria Makiling—my own version.

More lessons learned from my teammates on Thursday in our own Journey on Learning & Innovation.

(Moje is president of Paradigms & Paradoxes Corp. and facilitates self and team development initiatives. Share your own climbing experience and lessons learned via

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