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Soundview Executive Book SummariesMore Suspenseful Stories Of Business Leadership
There are two fundamentally different ways of scaling Mount Everest, the world's highest peak: the siege-style expedition and the alpine expedition. The siege-style expedition involves huge amounts of materials slowly brought up the mountain in a series of camps. The materials and people dwindle with each successive camp, so that in the end only a few, lightly burdened climbers reach the top. The alpine expedition involves a small group of climbers who push up the mountain quickly in one effort.
The two styles of expeditions can mirror the two styles of business growth: the plodding but safer siege style that emphasizes logistics, organizational teamwork and a command-and-control leader versus the entrepreneurial alpine style that favors speed, flexibility and individual initiative. Both styles have advantages and disadvantages. When the unpredictable weather on the peak turns nice, alpine climbers can quickly take advantage of what is usually a small window of opportunity. On the other hand, siege expeditions are much better prepared to weather a long, unexpected storm.
Comparisons between scaling Mount Everest and growing a business are made by University of California researcher Edwin Bernbaum in Upward Bound. Edited by Wharton Professor Michael Useem; his son Jerry Useem, a senior writer at Fortune; and venture capitalist Paul Asel, the book is a collection of essays by nine businesspeople and academics who share a passion for mountain or rock climbing - and who use their sometimes harrowing experiences to explore the parallels between success in the corporate world and success on the mountain. In addition to Bernbaum and the editors, contributors include entrepreneur Royal Robbins, founder of an outdoor and travel clothing distribution company; Stacy Allison, owner of a residential contracting company; and Jim Collins, author of Built to Last and Good to Great.
The first essay, titled "Hitting the Wall: Learning That Vertical Limits Aren't," is written by Collins and draws a number of specific lessons from his rock climbing experiences.
The first is to "climb to fallure, not failure." A rock climber in a bind can let go and drop onto the climbing rope in a controlled fall. Collins urges climbers to never let go on purpose - to never give in to failure. Likewise, he urges business leaders to never attempt anything halfway, in essence dropping on the rope at the first sign of trouble.
Another of Collins' lessons is to "separate probability from consequence." Because something is very dangerous does not mean it should not be attempted - if the probability of failure is very low. If probability and consequence are intertwined in your mind, then you will fail to make an informed decision on whether to take the risk.
'Form the Partner's Pact'
Collins also urges businesspeople to "form the partner's pact" - to worry first about who you want in your company before deciding what strategy to pursue. He also warns about the danger of success, comparing the tale of a highly skilled, experienced climber who dies on a relatively easy climb to the stories of investors and entrepreneurs who recklessly enjoyed the bull market of the late 1990s; the easy success setting them up for failure in the hard times ahead.
Why We Like This Book
Michael Useem, director of the Wharton School's Center for Leadership and Change, had already broken the mold of leadership literature with his two previous books, The Leadership Moment and Leading Up. Both books are unique collections of real-life stories drawn from a variety of fields that offer compelling and memorable lessons in leadership. Useem and his co-authors have produced another vivid work in which the power of the narratives reinforces the importance of the lessons within them. Copyright © 2004 Soundview Executive Book Summaries