Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Mountain Climbing Bad for the Brain...At Least I Have An Excuse

If you’ve ever fantasized about scaling Mount Everest, think again. A new study of professional mountain climbers shows that high-altitude climbing causes a subtle loss of brain cells and motor function.
Italian researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to look at the brains of nine world-class mountain climbers who had at least 10 years of experience, including expeditions to Mount Everest and K2. The climbers ranged in age from 31 to 52, with an average age of just under 38, and were used to climbing to altitudes of at least 4,000 meters (two-and-a-half miles, or over 13,000 feet) several times a year.
The scientists, who published their findings in the October issue of the European Journal of Neurology, compared the climbers’ M.R.I. brain scans with 19 age- and sex-matched healthy control subjects. A number of neuropsychological tests were also carried out to assess the climbers’ cognitive abilities, including memory and motor functions.
On scans, the climbers showed a reduction in both white and gray matter in various parts of the brain. Overall, the researchers found that the cognitive abilities that were most likely to be affected were the climbers’ executive function and memory.
Six of the nine climbers had lower than average scores on the Digit Symbol test, which measures executive functions. Three out of nine scored lower than average on memory tests, while four scored below average on a visual-motor function test. The study authors noted that the results “are most likely to be due to progressive, subtle brain insults caused by repeated high-altitude exposure.”
Other studies have shown links between brain problems and repeated exposure to extreme conditions. The British Journal of Sports Medicine reported in 2004 that scuba diving may have long-term negative effects on the brain, particularly when performed in extreme conditions, such as cold water, more than 100 dives per year, and diving below 40 meters.
And last year, researchers at New York University noted that high-altitude illness is a growing concern in sports medicine given the increasing popularity of extreme sports like high-altitude mountaineering, skiing and snowboarding. The report noted that about 20 percent of tourists to Colorado report acute mountain sickness, and complications arising from sports activities at high altitudes, such as the potentially fatal conditions of pulmonary and cerebral edema, are on the rise.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Team Building Goes To The Extreme

This is an article that will appear in the November issue of MPI Magazine.

Team Building Goes to the Extreme
By Gary Tufel

Forget about the standard team-building activities you’ve participated in or heard about. They can be effective, to be sure, but there’s an entire, albeit small, genre of extreme team building. Although some of these activities may not be for the faint of heart, they can and do create powerful bonds within groups. And they feature an emphasis on social consciousness.
Take what Jeff Evans offers, for instance. Evans, who is founder of Colorado-based MountainVision Inc. (www.mountain-vision.com), is an extreme team-building creator and guide as well as a speaker at various events.
According to Evans’ agent Dan Sims, CMP, president of The Agency Speakers, “One of Jeff¹s best trips is taking executives to the Inca Trail where they descend upon Machu Picchu. Each night the group works on different tenets of leadership and teambuilding (including writing their own epitaphs) and on working together under obvious adverse conditions." Evans conducts the programs for such clients as ESPN executives, schools and associations.
"I actually went on a trip primarily to learn more about Jeff Evans so that I could articulate his strengths to meeting planners. Jeff has it all as a speaker/trainer. He is charismatic, articulate, an author and a certified Physician Assistant, and one of the hottest speakers in the country," said Sims, who went on a Mt. Kilimanjaro trip.
You may have heard of Evans, who 13 years ago was the primary guide for blind climber/athlete Erik Weihenmayer on mountains, rock faces and adventure races all over the world. Evans worked with Weihenmayer to create a climbing vision, establish an acceptable definition of success and refine effective methods of communication, all innovative and challenging. He guided Weihenmayer to the summit of Mt. Everest in 2001. Some notoriety came from that, and he began branching out from that, addressing corporate and executive groups around the world. But what does he do, exactly, to build team spirit, and how does it work? And why do his clients subject themselves to such extreme experiences?
“I wanted to come up with new concepts,” says Evans, a lifelong mountaineer and guide. Evans was happy with the response to his speaking engagements, but today those engagements are often just step one on a continuum that stretches from speeches through 11- or 12-day treks to such exotic and remote areas as Machu Picchu, Mount Kilimanjaro and Bhutan.
“From my experiences as a guide I found my niche was teamwork and leadership. I realized I wanted to take the next step and do something powerful.” He wanted to not only describe extreme experiences, he wanted people to experience them, and in ways that would make them examine not only their professional lives but also their personal selves. Evans decided to morph his love of mountaineering into helping leaders overcome physical and mental obstacles and strengthen their leadership skills through what he calls “ultimate team-building opportunities.”
Evans has partnered with Bruce Jackson, head of the leadership development program at Utah Valley University, on three team-building trips in the past few years. They developed a large manual, “Principles of Personal Excellence,” for use on the trips.
Last June, Evans and Jackson led a group of 17 participants to Machu Picchu in Peru. The trips he conducts aren’t physically dangerous, Evans says, but they’re physically demanding. “Participants don’t do actual climbing; they’re too tired. In Machu Picchu we take an obscure trail which is a bit easier on people’s bodies. It’s just trekking and hiking, but we get up to 14,000 feet,” says Evans. “No one is put into any scary situations, but there is a certain level of conditioning expected because we keep moving for about five or six hours at a time.”
“The cornerstone of why we do this is that we could do these discussions in a conference room, and it would still be meaningful. But by being in an exotic place, and watching colleagues and strangers pushing themselves and sharing intense details and leadership styles, creates an inviting, neutral atmosphere that encourages introspection and self examination,” he says.
Every evening, the manual is used to spur discussions that include elements of emotional and intellectual stimulation. The goal: to have participants, who are sometimes from different organizations and sometimes from the same one, to come up with a personal ethos to guide their personal and professional lives. Jackson presents the precepts and Evans gives anecdotal examples, Evans says, based on his experiences with communication, leadership and vision. Usually the discussions last about two hours each and they’re opened up for dialog. “There are intense conversations and often tears,” Evans says. The last day of the trip is spent back at a hotel.
Evans offers an entire package that includes keynote speech and team-building activity, the latter of which usually attracts top-level executives who later communicate what they’ve learned to their employees. And he said word of mouth about the program has been so good that he hasn’t had to market it. “My keynote addresses make the point that you can’t be a better person until you’re better with your family and other connections,” Evans says.
“Extreme team-building trips are the tip of the iceberg in effecting real change in an organization,” says Evans. “We try to get top executives to experience real change and then to impact their cultures. Once they’ve felt it, it’s easier for them to communicate it to their organizations.” Evans also uses a software program to communicate daily information about the team-building activities to those who want to experience it second hand.
There’s also a social responsibility aspect to the experiences. In the middle part of each trip a service project is done, in the case of Machu Picchu at a village Evans has adopted. One project involved the building of an adobe chapel at a local school, where participants worked side by side with local villagers, in keeping with the trips’ themes of generosity and purpose. “It’s important to give back and we do this as a way to say thank you,” Evans says.
According to Entrepreneur Ron Lindorf, Evans and Jackson led a disparate group of strangers into a tightly knit group of friends via their nightly leadership discussions and training exercises. Lindorf says he can think of no better way after a hard day of physical demands to further stretch oneself than the way Evans and Jackson guided him and his group to. It created a trip that expanded and enhanced the whole person, and provided some practical life takeaways that only emerged in this kind of natural setting, he says.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Community Service And A Brief History of Inca

I will be departing on October 1st for my 4th journey to the land of the Inca.
This is, perhaps my favorite trip that we deliver at MountainVision. It really offers everything...exotic destination, cultural richness, physical exertion, alpine grandeur and most of all an opportunity to give back to a wonderful little village nestled in the Andes.
Prior to discussing the wonders of the trip I want to clear up a common misconception regarding the term Inca.

It is common for folks to refer back to the "Incan Civilization". I was a Latin and Native American cultural Anthropology major and I made this reference countless times. However, this terminology isn't exactly accurate as what is usually called the Inca is actually the long standing Quechua culture. Many people also mistakenly assume that the Inca Empire spread the Quechua culture throughout the Andes region. In fact, Quechua culture originated in central Peru at least a thousand years before the rise of the Inca Empire in the early 1400's. Most scholars believe that the Quechua language spread up and down the Andes as a trade language, long before the Inca adopted it.

The word "Inca" meaning "Son of the Sun" was a title originally carried only by the Emperor of the Quechuan culture that spread across Peru, Bolivia and Columbia. To preserve his culture from the ravages of the conquistadors, Inca Manco II left the capital city of Cusco in 1536 and retreated deep into the Andes. He took with him three sons, each of whom would in turn become Inca, suffering a succession of bloody encounters with the Spanish. Manco II chose a mountain peak overlooking the Urubamba valley to build his palace. Pizarro, leader of the Spanish invaders was never able to find this secret retreat, and its existence intrigued those who followed him. All who tried to discover the lost city failed.

Four centuries later in 1911 an American historian and explorer, Hiram Bingham (who the character Indian Jones was templeted after), discovered the ruins of a lost Inca outpost cradled in the summit of a mountain called Machupicchu. This once thriving city had been abandoned probably 100 to 200 years earlier, so it was essentially grown over. After years of uncovering and now preserving, we are given the opportunity to take in the majesty that is this grand place, Machu Picchu.

We travel through the Sacred Valley for almost a week until we reach "The Lost City". One of our first stops is in the village of Chilipaua. I have become quite connected to this little "village" which really only consists of two adobe bricked buildings. This building serves as the school as well as the village meeting point for all matters to be discussed amongst the neighbors. In some cases, the school children will walk close to two miles each way, every day to learn at the school. Every trip MountainVision takes to Peru includes a service project for this school. We have painted, built and reconstructed it in each journey. This year we will take on the daunting task of actually starting to build another wing to the school which will serve as the "chapel". The community has been making adobe bricks (with the brick press we built in July) for weeks in anticipation of our arrival.

The pleasure that each of our participants feels after a solid day of work in this community is palpable. We see the gratitude on each of the villagers faces as we work together with the community in making a small difference in how they live their lives deep in the mountains. I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to revisit these wonderous places and feel it is my obligation to spend a day showing our brothers and sisters in the Andes how much we appreciate them sharing their magnificent landscape and culture.

Please follow along with us on our journey from our Dispatch Page:

Friday, August 22, 2008

Leadership: Theologian vs Practician

Below is an article that my good friend Dan Sims wrote on our most recent adventure to Kilimanjaro...a great read:

Having been an avid reader of leadership books since my college days, I have become increasingly dissatisfied with the direction of this ‘conventional wisdom’. At the root of my dissatisfaction is a growing implication that ‘leaders’ are essentially smart, and ‘followers’ are thoughtless sheep waiting around to be led. In my experiences as an athlete, entrepreneur and father, I have found this to be completely untrue.

In reality, intelligence is shared amongst the group and, in any given situation; certain people bring more to the table than others. In fact, it could be argued that ‘following’ actually takes a higher degree of intelligence than leading most of the time. This is especially true on a team of overachievers who typically, in other circumstances, would stand out on their own. The ability to recognize strengths in others…and to understand when those strengths warrant a leadership role…is an exceptional trait to possess.

Writing about the ‘Art of Followship’ is not nearly as ‘sexy’ or as widely-accepted as promoting the Ten L’s of Leadership or the 8 Tenets of Great Leaders. However if higher understanding is truly our goal, then it is undeniable that the science of leadership is at least equally a discussion on the ‘art’ of being an informed follower. We all know the square-jawed face of the General valiantly leading his troops into battle or the pre-game eloquence of the gridiron coach, imploring his team to perform above their natural talent. While I would never argue that leaders require those traits, it is wholly irrational and naïve to think that people follow blindly.

I recently had the opportunity to join an expedition to Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and witnessed the demonstration of both leadership and followship under extreme circumstances. Led by world-renowned mountain guide, Jeff Evans, our team of 15 climbers and 42 porters set out for the summit much like a traveling village. On the support side, porters had clearly defined roles ranging from cooking to equipment to trail support. On the climber side, we were a small microcosm of society representing folks from academia, IT, construction, finance, sales, real estate and multiple other industries. As could be imagined, we were an aggressive group who had trained (primarily individually) and sacrificed a great deal to make this adventure a successful one.

From the onset, I was immediately struck by the ability of our team to recognize that while each of us was perhaps an ‘expert’ in our own respective worlds; we were clearly out of our comfort zone. From my experience, it is usually at this point that several people will attempt to separate from the group and define themselves as ‘more’ competent than their teammates. These people are usually extremely insecure and it is this insecurity that undermines the group’s ability to identify and relate to the true leaders. In our case, no ‘posers’ identified themselves and all of our collective intelligence could focus on Jeff’s knowledge and experience and our collective bid to summit this great mountain.

Jeff, for his part, embodies many (if not all) of the traditionally-recognized qualities of a leader. He is experienced, confident, articulate and adept at building and maintaining rapport with many different people on many different levels. However Jeff is also skilled in the art of ‘followship’ and in my experiences with him ‘off the mountain’ he has displayed the unique ability to defer to others when he recognizes the limits to his own expertise. Having been on both sides of these types of situations with Jeff, I can’t tell you how much this trait in him is appreciated and respected.

As our climb progressed through the jungle and our team discovered the unique knowledge and skills that we possessed as a group, it was incredible to see the collective confidence growing. On the third day up the mountain, however, our team suffered a major blow as one of our strongest members severely injured his ankle. Tanzania, despite its physical beauty, is not a place that you want to get hurt. And the lava-rock side of Mt. Kilimanjaro is most definitely not an environment conducive to medical care. As our friend’s ankle swelled up to twice its size in just a few short minutes, it became evident that something drastic would need to be done.

As 57 sets of eyes focused squarely on Jeff, I remember thinking that this is where Theological Leaders get separated from Practical Leaders. What would Jeff do? I should also mention that Jeff is an Emergency Room Physician Assistant (PA-C), though as is typical when traveling to Africa, all of Jeff’s bags (including his medical equipment) had been lost by the airline. Extreme environment, extreme injury and no viable equipment.

If you have ever been part of a team, you know that the group actually takes on a singular life which is separate from any one individual. When our teammate got hurt, it somehow cast a shadow on our entire team and thoughts of doubt and vulnerability overtook our once-confident and well-oiled machine. Recognizing and understanding our psyche, Jeff immediately took control of the situation in a way that was collaborative and inclusive. Even when he did not need help, Jeff assigned tasks to various members of the team so that they could get busy contributing rather than lamenting our poor fortune. Crafting a full leg splint out of bedding, organizing a team of porters, coordinating an evacuation plan and ultimately instilling confidence in all of us, Jeff was being a leader. He was the leader not because he talked the loudest or because he had the most money. He was the leader because we chose him to lead based on careful consideration.

Ultimately, after 14 hours of being ‘piggy-backed’ down the mountain by four different porters, our friend reached a service road and was put in what can only be described as a human wheelbarrow where he was pushed the rest of the way. Jeff made the decision to stay with our team rather than go with our friend, but only after a restless night of internally debating where he was most needed. The simple fact that he debated all of the angles made whatever decision he would arrive at okay with all of us.

Three days later the entire rest of our team would stand on the top of the mountain watching the sun rise across the continent of Africa. It was a life-changing moment to say the least. But as I stood there considering all of the sacrifices my wife and kids had made to afford me this opportunity, I was struck by a statement that Jeff had made during one of the long hikes on a prior day. He said, “I have traveled all over the world and stood atop the highest summits in the world. But I have never learned one thing standing on any summit. All of my learning has occurred on the way up.”

A leader in all of my other endeavors…business, sports, family, etc…I was a follower on this adventure and learned more about myself than I could have possibly imagined.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Kilimanjaro's Disappearing Glacier Trick

Global warming and Kilimanjaro: where have Kili's glaciers gone?

On August 3rd I will depart for my 8th trip to climb Kilimanjaro located in East Africa in the country of Tanzania. Follow along by signing up for our daily trip dispatches.

Much has been written and discussed regarding the retreating glaciers of Africa's highest mountain. There have been several extensive studies performed recently on the mountain in hopes of gaining some insight as to how quickly they are disappearing as well as whether it can be exclusively blamed on global warming.

Of the 19 square kilometres of glacial ice to be found on Africa, only 2.2 square kilometres can be found on Kilimanjaro. Unfortunately, both figures used to be much higher.

Kili’s famous glaciers have shrunk by a whopping 82% since the first survey of the summit in 1912. Even since 1989, when there were 3.3 square kilometres, there has been a decline of 33%. At that rate, say the experts, Kili will be completely ice-free within the next decade or two.‘We found that the summit of the ice fields has lowered by at least 17 metres since 1962,’ said Professor Lonnie Thompson of Ohio State University. ‘That’s an average loss of about a half-metre (a foot and a half) in height each year.’

The big question, therefore, is not whether Kilimanjaro’s glaciers are shrinking, but why – and should we be concerned? Certainly glacial retreats are nothing new: Hans Meyer, the first man to conquer Kilimanjaro, returned in 1898, nine years after his ascent, and was horrified by the extent to which the glaciers had shrunk. The ice on Kibo’s slopes had retreated by 100m on all sides, while one of the notches he had used to gain access to the crater in 1889 – and now called the Hans Meyer Notch – was twice as wide, with the ice only half as thick.

Nor are warnings of the complete disappearance of the glaciers anything new: in 1899 Meyer himself predicted that they would be gone within three decades, and the top of Kili would be decorated with nothing but bare rock.
What concerns today’s scientists, however, is that this current reduction in size of Kili’s ice-cap does seem to be more rapid and more extensive than previous shrinkages. But is it really something to worry about, or merely the latest in a series of glacial retreats experienced by Kili over the last few hundred years?

Professor Thompson and his team are attempting to find answers to all these questions. In January and February 2000 they drilled six ice cores through three of Kibo’s glaciers in order to research the history of the mountain’s climate over the centuries. (Follow this link to read a BBC report of their work). A weather station was also placed on the Northern Icefield to see how the current climate affects the build-up or destruction of glaciers.

Although results are still coming in from Professor Thompson’s work, early indications were not good. In a speech made at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in February 2001, the professor declared that, while he cannot be sure why the ice is melting away so quickly, what is certain is that if the glaciers continue to shrink at current rates, the summit could be completely ice-free by 2015.

Whatever the reasons, if Kilimanjaro is to lose its snowy top, the repercussions would be extremely serious: Kilimanjaro’s glaciers are essential to the survival of the local villages, supplying their drinking water, the water to irrigate their crops and, through hydroelectric production, their power; never mind the blow the loss of the snow-cap would deal to tourism.
And these are just the local consequences. If the scientists are to be believed, what is happening on Kilimanjaro is a microcosm of what could face the entire world in future. Even more worryingly, more and more scientists are now starting to think that this future is probably already upon us.

I have personally witnessed a perceptible change in the position of the glaciers in my annual pilgrimage. That being said, last year was the snowiest trip I have experienced with miles of the mountain blanketed in 6 month old snow and ice. This might lead a first timer to believe that the glacial retreat is a myth. But a closer look reveals that the glaciers themselves are indeed moving. And in glacier years, a noticeable change in eight years is a fraction of a second. I am concerned and would urge all to make a concerted effort to accept Al Gores challenge of disconnecting from fossil fuels by 2018. As with most things satisfying pursuits...it will be extremely challenging, but ultimately rewarding.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Playing Field is Even

This past weekend I participated in what was labeled as the Real Deal Inclusive Adventure Race. At first I thought this might mean that all my drinks and food were built into the price of admission and that I would not have to open my wallet for the entire weekend. And although this was ultimately true, the "inclusive" descriptor was meant to relate how this adventure race would be centered around teams that had at least 2 "disabled" team members.

As usual, I was teamed up with super blind dude Erik as I had been for our previous year of adventure racing back in 2003 (see Influence of a Blind Dude below). However each team was also required to have one paraplegic athlete as well as one "able bodied" athlete (typically blind or amputee). Our para athlete for the race was a wonderful paralympic downhill gold medalist named Sarah Will. It was clear during our initial training day that Sarah was as solid as they come. Although she weighs 90 lbs soaking wet, she has a dogged determination and ability to just knuckle down and get her task done. I was proud to have her on my team.

The weekend was a wonderful mix of athletes...many very accomplished in the world of paralympics...all there to compete and share a love for adventure and camaraderie. Throughout the two day event, the teams were required to race through the mountains of Colorado on such disciplines as white water rafting, mountain biking, climbing, rappelling and cross country navigating. All of these activities are individually quite fun...but even more so when you are required to go full out race mode and stack each of them into 48 hours on very little sleep. This is the nature of adventure racing and for some twisted folk...it's a hoot.

Going into the 2nd day of the race our team, Lumbar Liquidators (who generously anteed up our $10,000 entry fee) held a 35 second lead over the 2nd place Powerbar team. At this point all we had to do was paddle strong on the early morning white water section and then successfully navigate a 12 mile orienteering course. Just prior to entering the morning paddle the race director told the teams that we could choose any 2 of our team members to do the 12 mile mountain run. This was good news for us as we felt confident that my teammate Rob and I would be quite capable of cruising fast through the mountains while quickly finding the subsequent 'checkpoints' along the way. Surely we would be able to run most of the course and with our navigational skills honed from years spent mountaineering and adventure racing there would hardly be a team that could challenge us. We had it wrapped up. And then, just to boost our confidence we saw upon exiting the rafts and heading out on the course that the Powerbar team was sending out their "able bodied" athlete who was a woman named Amy that was a very accomplished Ironman amputee. She had a below the knee amputation and one of those sweet bionic looking prosthetics...and man, she could fly on that thing. But come on...how could a one legged woman and her teammate beat Rob and I in the mountains?

About 4 miles into an uphill slog Rob and I had yet to be able to shake the Powerbar team. They just kept right on top of us...following our every move. As our GPS and maps were telling us that were closing in on our checkpoint, Rob decided to ascend up a narrow creek drainage to inspect whether the checkpoint was hidden away in the ravine. I continued up the ridge towards where my GPS was pointing me. After a few minutes it became clear that I was headed in the right direction and Rob was not. About this time, Powerbar blew past me on their way to the appropriate checkpoint about a half mile around the ridge. I ran back to the point I last saw Rob and began to yell...in vain. I stood there for what felt like an hour...scanning the horizon for Rob, waiting to catch a glimpse of him. Then it was clear that the only option for me was to head to the checkpoint and hope that Rob figured out his misdirection and reoriented. 30 minutes later Rob appeared down in the valley. The rules of adventure racing state that team members must always be in sight of each other, so clearly we had already screwed up...which meant that I was required to sit at the checkpoint and wait for Rob to ascend the hill up to me before we could both head back down towards the finish line. As Rob finally reached me, it was clear that he had expended ALOT of energy while lost and then climbing up to my position. His face lost all emotion as the second he reached me after 20 minutes of running uphill I immediately forced him into a powersprint back down the hill.

We ran the remaining 9 miles to the finish only to finish 4 minutes behind the Powerbar team. It made for an exciting race and will make for some really good TV in the fall when NBC airs the Jeep World of Sports which will feature the Real Deal Inclusive Adventure Race.

A wonderful lesson was learned...we all come to the field with the same tools. Its just that some of us use our tools in more effective ways than others. We got beat by a one legged woman in a race through the mountains. I love it!
Check out the Denver Post article on the race.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

High-Stakes Decision Making: The Lessons of Mount Everest

Below I have copied an article that was written by Harvard Business School professor, Micheal A. Roberto on how the disaster on Mount Everest in May of 1996 relates to leadership and decision making. That day, twenty-three climbers reached the summit. Thirteen of them, however, did not survive the descent. Two of these, Rob Hall and Scott Fischer, were extremely skilled team leaders with much experience on Everest.

Newspaper and magazine articles and books—most famously, Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, have attempted to explain how events got so out of control that particular day. Several explanations compete: human error, weather, all the dangers inherent in human beings pitting themselves against the world's most forbidding peak.
A single cause of the 1996 tragedy may never be known. But perhaps the events that day hold lessons, some of them for business managers. Roberto's new working paper describes how.

Here follows an excerpt from "Lessons From Everest: The Interaction of Cognitive Bias, Psychological Safety, and System Complexity."

Implications For Leaders
This multi-lens analysis of the Everest case provides a framework for understanding, diagnosing, and preventing serious failures in many types of organizations. However, it also has important implications for how leaders can shape and direct the processes through which their organizations make and implement high-stakes decisions. The Everest analysis suggests that leaders must pay close attention to how they balance competing pressures in their organizations, and how their words and actions shape the perceptions and beliefs of organization members. In addition, the case provides insight regarding how firms approach learning from past failures.

Balancing Competing Forces
The Everest case suggests that leaders need to engage in a delicate balancing act with regard to nurturing confidence, dissent, and commitment within their organizations. First, executives must strike a balance between overconfidence on the one hand and insufficient confidence on the other. Leaders must act decisively when faced with challenges, and they must inspire others to do so as well. A lack of confidence can enhance anticipatory regret, or the apprehension that individuals often experience prior to making a decision. High levels of anticipatory regret can lead to indecision and costly delays. This anxiety can be particularly problematic for executives in fast-moving industries. Successful management teams in turbulent industries develop certain practices to cope with this anxiety. For instance, some leaders develop the confidence to act decisively in the face of considerable ambiguity by seeking the advice of one or more "expert counselors," i.e. highly experienced executives who can serve as a confidante and a sounding board for various ideas. Naturally, too much confidence can become dangerous as well, as the Everest case clearly demonstrates. To combat overconfidence, leaders must seek out information that disconfirms their existing views, and they should discourage subordinates from hiding bad news. Leaders also must take great care to separate facts from assumptions, and they must encourage everyone to test critical assumptions vigorously to root out overly optimistic projections.

Fostering constructive dissent poses another challenge for managers. As we see in the Everest case, insufficient debate among team members can diminish the extent to which plans and proposals undergo critical evaluation. Flawed ideas remain unchallenged, and creative alternatives are not generated. On the other hand, when leaders arrive at a final decision, they need everyone to accept the outcome and support its implementation. They cannot allow continued dissension to disrupt the effort to turn that decision into action. As Cyrus the Great once said, leaders must balance the need for "diversity in counsel, unity in command." To accomplish this, leaders must insure that each participant has a fair and equal opportunity to voice their opinions during the decision process, and they must demonstrate that they have considered those views carefully and genuinely. Moreover, they must clearly explain the rationale for their final decision, including why they chose to accept some input and advice while rejecting other suggestions. By doing so, leaders can encourage divergent thinking while building decision acceptance.

Finally, leaders must balance the need for strong buy-in against the danger of escalating commitment to a failing course of action over time. To implement effectively, managers must foster commitment by providing others with ample opportunities to participate in decision making, insuring that the process is fair and legitimate, and minimizing the level of interpersonal conflict that emerges during the deliberations. Without strong buy-in, they risk numerous delays including efforts to re-open the decision process after implementation is underway. However, leaders must be aware of the dangers of over-commitment to a flawed course of action, particularly after employees have expended a great deal of time, money, and effort. The ability to "cut your losses" remains a difficult challenge as well as a hallmark of courageous leadership. Simple awareness of the sunk cost trap will not prevent flawed decisions. Instead, leaders must be vigilant about asking tough questions such as: What would another executive do if he assumed my position today with no prior history in this organization? Leaders also need to question themselves and others repeatedly about why they wish to make additional investments in a particular initiative. Managers should be extremely wary if they hear responses such as: "Well, we have put so much money into this already. We don't want to waste all of those resources." Finally, leaders can compare the benefits and costs of additional investments with several alternative uses of those resources. By encouraging the consideration of multiple options, leaders may help themselves and others recognize how over-commitment to an existing project may be preventing the organization from pursuing other promising opportunities.

Shaping Perceptions and Beliefs
The Everest case also demonstrates how leaders can shape the perceptions and beliefs of organization members, and thereby affect how these individuals will interact with one another and with their leaders in critical situations. Hall and Fischer made a number of seemingly minor choices about how the teams were structured that had an enormous impact on people's perceptions of their roles, status, and relationships with other climbers. Ultimately, these perceptions and beliefs constrained the way that people behaved when the groups encountered serious obstacles and dangers.

Leaders can shape the perceptions and beliefs of others in many ways. In some cases, the leaders' words or actions send a clear signal as to how they expect people to behave. For instance, Hall made it very clear that he did not wish to hear dissenting views while the expedition made the final push to the summit. Most leaders understand the power of these very direct commands or directives. However, this case also demonstrates that leaders shape the perceptions and beliefs of others through subtle signals, actions, and symbols. For example, the compensation differential among the guides shaped people's beliefs about their relative status in the expedition. It is hard to believe that the expedition leaders recognized that their compensation decisions would impact perceptions of status, and ultimately, the likelihood of constructive dissent within the expedition teams. Nevertheless, this relatively minor decision did send a strong signal to others in the organization. The lesson for managers is that they must recognize the symbolic power of their actions and the strength of the signals they send when they make decisions about the formation and structure of work teams in their organizations.

Learning From Failure
Often, when an organization suffers a terrible failure, others attempt to learn from the experience. Trying to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past seems like an admirable goal. Naturally, some observers attribute the poor performance of others to human error of one kind or another. They blame the firm's leaders for making critical mistakes, at times even going so far as to accuse them of ignorance, negligence, or indifference. Attributing failures to the flawed decisions of others has certain benefits for outside observers. In particular, it can become a convenient argument for those who have a desire to embark on a similar endeavor. By concluding that human error caused others to fail, ambitious and self-confident managers can convince themselves that they will learn from those mistakes and succeed where others did not.

This research demonstrates a more holistic approach to learning from large-scale organizational failures. It suggests that we cannot think about individual, group, and organizational levels of analysis in isolation. Instead, we need to examine how cognitive, interpersonal, and systemic forces interact to affect organizational processes and performance. System complexity, team structure and beliefs, and cognitive limitations are not alternative explanations for failures, but rather complementary and mutually reinforcing concepts.

Business executives and other leaders typically recognize that equifinality characterizes many situations. In other words, most leaders understand that there are many ways to arrive at the same outcome. Nevertheless, we have a natural tendency to blame other people for failures, rather than attributing the poor performance to external and contextual factors. We also tend to pit competing theories against one another in many cases, and try to argue that one explanation outperforms the others. The Everest case suggests that both of these approaches may lead to erroneous conclusions and reduce our capability to learn from experience. We need to recognize multiple factors that contribute to large-scale organizational failures, and to explore the linkages among the psychological and sociological forces involved at the individual, group, and organizational system level. In sum, all leaders would be well-served to recall Anatoli Boukreev's closing thoughts about the Everest tragedy: "To cite a specific cause would be to promote an omniscience that only gods, drunks, politicians, and dramatic writers can claim."

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Influence of a Blind Dude

So last week I'm on the phone with my blind buddy Erik (the guy I have guided all over the world) and he says to me..."let's do another adventure race."

To many this may seem like a benign invitation to go share a fun couple of days with a friend but I know better.
In 2003, Erik and I partnered up with a couple of experienced adventure racers (one of them, Rob Harsh is an amazing athlete living in Boulder) to try our hand at the sport. For those not familiar with adventure racing, a brief description: a whirlwind of mountain biking, climbing, rappelling, trail running, orienteering, white water paddling and suffering. The final activity in that list being the most worthy. Due to the fact that it is a 'race', there are time limits on every stage and if a team doesn't enter into the transition area within the allotted time, they are disqualified. This sense of urgency requires a lot of hustle and very little sleep.

We traveled to all the way to Greenland for our first race. Did OK on it...although we didn't finish which was a big blow. However, we did not let this get us down as our main objective was to be Primal Quest in the Sierra Madre mountains near Lake Tahoe.

Below is the report I put together following that race:

Rough Water Paddle

Glad that one's done. We started into the 457-mile race two Fridays ago (the 5th) on the shore of Lake Tahoe. I'll hit some of the highs and lows of the subsequent ten days as our team of four, plus a wonderful cast of extras finished what's being dubbed as the hardest adventure race ever on American soil. The first day took us paddling around the north shore of the lake on what was supposed to be a "flat water paddle." This became quite the misnomer as we turned the boat back south into the prevailing winds and encountered 15-20 mph gusts and three foot swells crashing over the bow of the boat. All four of us became somewhat uncomfortable, however Erik took the brunt of the pain riding in front of the boat...occasionally he would be submerged for a split second as a whitecap cascaded over him onto me. The carnage was starting to stack up as five of the 80 boats that started either capsized or sank. We limped onto shore about eight hours after setting off and could barely walk due to the stiffness that had set in several hours previous.

Kickbikes and Adventure?

The next leg was a 23 mile kickbike section...What's a kickbike you ask? It's like a fancy scooter. I was dreading this section due to the fact that there is absolutely no way to look cool while captaining a kickbike. In retrospect, I found the kickbiking to be the most enjoyable leg due to its simplicity and brevity. At midnight that evening we pulled into our first transition area where we were met by our support crew that fed and drank us for two hours before we saddled up the bikes and headed out on a 110 mile bike ride. As you can imagine, this is too long to be on any bike, much less a tandem mountain bike that carries a combined weight of around 380 lbs. The best part of this lengthy segment was the ridiculously sustained up hill nature of the ride. The 12,000 feet of elevation gain was constant and relentless. We were met by hill after hill until it became funny.

Seated on a tandem bike for 110 miles. . . ouch

The unfortunate thing about the tandem isn't necessarily the burden of weight; it's the fact that as the pilot, I was unable to get out of the saddle for any of the long ride which inflicts great pain and discomfort on the nether regions of one's body. My booty hurt...bad. We peddled through the night and at dawn laid down in the dirt to get our first hour and ½ of sleep of the race. The following evening, with only 10 miles left of this heinous biking leg, we made our first navigational error which dropped us down a valley trail...losing about 1,000 feet of elevation in the wrong direction.
Wrong Turn

It was 4 am before we, along with five other teams, realized our brutal mistake. The decision was made to lay down in the dirt, wrapped in our 'space blankets,' which are just over priced sheets of Mylar that seem to trap in a small fraction of your body's exothermic heat. I was fortunate enough to be so exhausted that I was able to sleep for two hours, spooned against Erik. I awoke at 6 am as the first rays of sun were lighting the sky and couldn't feel my right foot. My first thought was, "this is great...all these years in the mountains without any frostbite and here I am about to have a frostbitten right foot and lose some toes in a stupid adventure race...great." Within 90 seconds I was up and pushing that 30 pound tandem bike up the hill. Turns out we were only about 2 hours away from the warmth and hospitality of our boys in the next transition area. Bummer.

Salvation in the form of a Paddle

The days started to melt together...a 25 mile trek...a section of orienteering...back on the bikes for 50 miles...a 43 mile trek...a 700 foot free hanging rappel...then, onto a whitewater paddle. The whitewater section took us down the south fork of the American River, which was running quite large at the time with multiple 3+ rapids. A bit of divine intervention played out early on during the paddle. Within the first half hour, Rob broke his paddle on a rock. This didn't bode well, leaving four of us with three paddles and many miles of rapids followed by several miles of flat lake paddling ahead of us. As usual, we just sucked it up and switched paddles around to be efficient (gave Erik the broken one) and continued on. One minute later I spotted a perfectly brilliant paddle floating in a pool just a few feet away. We were whole again....thanks to the powers that be. I began to dread the night. With it came the notorious "sleep monster"...the nebulous creature that entered your mind and body while fighting sleep and tortured you with hallucinations and fatigue until you either fought through it, gave in, or the sun came up. The need for sleep was sometimes painful and I wanted it like I've never wanted anything in my life...the ease and comfort of deep sleep. I couldn't have it though....would let the team down...gotta fight through it...must ignore those damn gnomes, elves and goblins that run annoyingly across the path. This was the hardest part for me by far.

Not quite last...

Many other remarkable events played out over the next several days, too many to mention ...however, the most remarkable was when we crossed the finish line at 4:07 am on Sunday morning in 48th place out of 49 teams that finished the race. Ten days after starting. We were and continue to be filled with pride over what we did. I think the four of us, Cammy, Rob, Erik and I along with our support crew of Gavin and Ben were the only ones associated with the race that KNEW we would finish this grueling event. With a valiant display of teamwork, determination and perseverance, we showed 'em.

After the suffering that I experienced on that race I swore I would never do any more racing. So, this is why I am still confused how I got duped into doing another race with Erik. I suppose because this is an exceptional race with an exceptional organization. The race is called the Real Deal Inclusive Sports Challenge, sponsored by World TEAM Sports. It will take place over the weekend of June 27-29 and will be aired on ABC Sports later in the year.

More details to come....as well as more suffering. I can't wait!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Common Wealth

I want to share a wonderful article entitled "Common Wealth", written by Jeff Sachs.
Sachs is a professor at The Earth Institute at Columbia and the author of The End of Poverty.

I will paraphrase some of the more important sections, however the full article can be reviewed on the Time magazine site.

The 21st century will overturn many of our basic assumptions about economic life. The 20th century saw the end of European dominance of global politics and economics. The 21st century will see the end of American dominance too, as new powers, including China, India and Brazil, continue to grow and make their voices heard on the world stage. Yet the century's changes will be even deeper than a rebalancing of economics and geopolitics. The challenges of sustainable development—protecting the environment, stabilizing the world's population, narrowing the gaps of rich and poor and ending extreme poverty—will render passé the very idea of competing nation-states that scramble for markets, power and resources.
The defining challenge of the 21st century will be to face the reality that humanity shares a common fate on a crowded planet. We have reached the beginning of the century with 6.6 billion people living in an interconnected global economy producing an astounding $60 trillion of output each year. Human beings fill every ecological niche on the planet, from the icy tundra to the tropical rain forests to the deserts. In some locations, societies have outstripped the carrying capacity of the land, resulting in chronic hunger, environmental degradation and a large-scale exodus of desperate populations. We are, in short, in one another's faces as never before, crowded into an interconnected society of global trade, migration, ideas and, yes, risk of pandemic diseases, terrorism, refugee movements and conflict.
We also face a momentous choice. Continue on our current course, and the world is likely to experience growing conflicts between haves and have-nots, intensifying environmental catastrophes and downturns in living standards caused by interlocking crises of energy, water, food and violent conflict. Yet for a small annual investment of world income, undertaken cooperatively across the world, our generation can harness new technologies for clean energy, reliable food supplies, disease control and the end of extreme poverty.
That's why the idea that has the greatest potential to change the world is simply this: by overcoming cynicism, ending our misguided view of the world as an enduring struggle of "us" vs. "them" and instead seeking global solutions, we actually have the power to save the world for all, today and in the future. Whether we end up fighting one another or whether we work together to confront common threats—our fate, our common wealth, is in our hands.
To make the right choice, we must understand four earth-changing trends unprecedented in human history:
First, the spread of modern economic growth means that the world on average is rapidly getting richer in terms of incomes per person. Moreover, the gap in average income per person between the rich world, centered in the North Atlantic (that is, Europe and the U.S.), and much of the developing world, especially Asia, is narrowing fast. With well over half the world's population, fast-growing Asia will also become the center of gravity of the world economy.
Second, the world's population will continue to rise, thereby amplifying the overall growth of the global economy. Not only are we each producing more output on average, but there will be many more of us by midcentury. The scale of the world's economic production by midcentury is therefore likely to be several times that of today.
Third, our bulging population and voracious use of the earth's resources are leading to unprecedented multiple environmental crises. Never before has the magnitude of human economic activity been large enough to change fundamental natural processes at the global scale, including the climate itself. Humanity has also filled the world's ecological niches; there is no place to run.
Fourth, while many of the poor are making progress, many of the very poorest are stuck at the bottom. Nearly 10 million children die each year because their families, communities and nations are too poor to sustain them. The instability of impoverished and water-stressed countries has ignited a swath of violence across the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. What we call violent fundamentalism should be seen for what it really is: poverty, hunger, water scarcity and despair.

These great challenges have not entirely escaped worldwide notice. In the past 20 years, world leaders on occasion have groped for ways to cope with them. In fact, they've achieved some important successes, and with considerable public support, which can provide a foothold for a sustainable future. We have adopted a global treaty for climate change; we have pledged to protect biodiversity; we are committed globally to fighting the encroachment of deserts in today's conflict-ridden dry lands of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. And the world has adopted the Millennium Development Goals to cut extreme poverty, hunger and disease by 2015. The challenge is to turn those fragile and unfulfilled global commitments into real solutions.

When it comes to problem-solving on a global scale, we remain weighed down by cynicism, defeatism and outdated institutions. A world of untrammeled market forces and competing nation-states offers no automatic solutions to these challenges. The key will lie in developing new sustainable technologies and ensuring that they rapidly reach all those who need them. If the trillions of dollars that the U.S. is squandering in Iraq was instead being invested in clean energy, disease control and new, ecologically sound ways of growing food, we wouldn't be facing the cusp of a rapidly weakening dollar, soaring food and energy prices and the threats of much worse to come.

Here are four bold but achievable goals for the U.S. and the rest of the world:
— Sustainable systems of energy, land and resource use that avert the most dangerous trends of climate change, species extinction and destruction of ecosystems
— Stabilization of the world population at 8 billion or below by 2050, through a voluntary reduction of fertility rates, rather than the current trajectory of more than 9 billion by midcentury
— The end of extreme poverty by 2025, and improved economic security within the rich countries as well
— A new approach to global problem-solving based on cooperation among nations and the dynamism and creativity of the nongovernmental sector.

What will it take to attain these goals? The greatest successes in global cooperation combine four elements: a clear objective, an effective technology, a clear implementation strategy and a source of financing.
Smallpox eradication, for example, started with a clear objective (the eradication of the disease) and an effective vaccine. It built on a clear implementation strategy, in which smallpox vaccines were given for free on a mass basis, and local outbreaks were quickly isolated through careful surveillance and response. The effort was funded on a sustained basis by several donor governments, including the U.S.'s. Similarly, the Green Revolution in Asia, which lifted China and India out of chronic hunger, built on a clear objective (raising food yields), an effective technology (a combination of high-yield seeds, fertilizer and irrigation), a clear implementation strategy (mass distribution of the input package at below market cost) and large-scale funding (from the Ford and Rockefeller foundations and the U.S. government, in addition to local financing).
Other examples abound of measurable progress against once daunting challenges: the rapid, if incomplete, expansion of primary schooling and literacy around the world; the systematic control of many killer diseases, including guinea worm disease, leprosy and African river blindness; and the voluntary decline of high fertility rates through access to family planning in almost all parts of the world, with sub-Saharan Africa the last remaining region awaiting a "demographic transition."
We live in a time of cynicism about achieving global public goals, yet whenever we have made the effort to mobilize our powerful technologies, we have succeeded. Measles deaths in Africa are down more than 90% in the past seven years, at a time when many people mistakenly believe that nothing can be accomplished in large parts of Africa. Polio is nearly eradicated. Food production is soaring in Ethiopia and Malawi because modern farming techniques have been brought to peasant communities. Children have filled the schools wherever school meal programs are introduced and school fees are dropped. There is no shortage of examples of how we can attain our goals, only a shortage of will and stamina so far to carry these successes to scale, and to other vital arenas.
Our generation's great environmental challenges can be met with similar resolve and technological focus. Climate change threatens our food supplies, coastlines, health and the survival of countless species. Yet powerful technological solutions are within reach. Coal-fired power plants can capture and store the carbon dioxide that they produce, rather than releasing the carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Plug-in hybrid automobiles, nearly ready for the market, have the potential to quadruple our miles per gallon. Solar energy, concentrated by rapidly improving systems of parabolic mirrors, could be deployed in Africa's great desert and dry-land regions to provide electricity for Africa and Southern Europe at a cost competitive with fossil fuels. New land-management strategies, backed by modest financial incentives, could end most of today's tropical deforestation, which now contributes around one-fifth of all global carbon emissions as well as causing a massive loss of biodiversity. And all these steps to sustainable energy, according to today's best economic and engineering evidence, can be implemented for less than 1% of annual world income.

If the solutions are so attainable, why haven't we reached them already? Part of the reason is that we are facing our problems in the wrong way. We are so convinced that the problems are intractable—or deathly expensive to solve—that paralysis reigns. Even when we are aware of what needs to be done, we are often trapped by a free-market ideology, the same kind of no-regulation policy that has led us into our current financial crisis.
On the three great challenges—environmental sustainability, a stable world population and the end of extreme poverty—market forces will not be enough. The world's producers and consumers currently regard the air as a free dumping ground for carbon dioxide and other climate-changing greenhouse gases. We need to correct market forces—for example, by taxing carbon emissions that are offset by tax reductions elsewhere—in order to create the right incentives. We need to expand greatly our public investments in early-stage clean technologies, such as improved solar-thermal power and carbon capture and sequestration, just as the National Institutes of Health uses public funding to support medical breakthroughs.
Similarly, population stabilization in poor countries requires a determined public investment—in girls' education, health services and child survival—to promote a rapid and voluntary reduction in birth rates. And we should first help the poorest of the poor to get above survival levels of income before we can expect market forces to lift them further, to market-driven prosperity.
None of this is expensive, but none of it can happen by itself. Indeed, it is the low cost of success that is perhaps the most remarkable feature of all. Consider malaria, the great African killer disease. Three hundred million antimalaria bed nets are needed to protect impoverished Africans from the disease. Each net costs $5 and lasts five years, for a total cost of $1.5 billion over five years. Yet that is less than one day's Pentagon spending! Add in the costs of medicines and ongoing delivery services, and we find that comprehensive malaria control would cost less than two days' Pentagon spending each year. Sustainable development will not break the bank. The key is, rather, to make the right choices in our public investments and to find ways to harness, and channel, market forces.

Great social transformations—the end of slavery, the women's and civil rights movements, the end of colonial rule, the birth of environmentalism—all began with public awareness and engagement. Our political leaders followed rather than led. It was scientists, engineers, church-goers and young people who truly led the way. If as citizens we vote for war, then war it will be. If instead we support a global commitment to sustainable development, then our leaders will follow, and we will find a way to peace.
Each of us has a role to play and a chance for leadership. First, study the problems—in school, in reading, on the Web. Second, when possible, travel. There is no substitute for seeing extreme poverty, or deforestation, or the destructive forces of nature in New Orleans, to understand our generation's real challenges. There is no substitute for meeting and engaging with people across cultures, religions and regions to realize that we are all in this together. Third, get your business, community, church or student group active in some aspect of sustainable development. Americans are promoting the control of malaria, the spread of solar power, the end of polio and the reversal of treatable blindness, to name just a few of today's inspiring examples of private leadership. Finally, demand that our politicians honor our nation's global promises and commitments on climate change and the fight against hunger and poverty. If the public leads, politicians will surely follow.
Our generation's greatest challenges—in environment, demography, poverty and global politics—are also our most exciting opportunity. Ours is the generation that can end extreme poverty, turn the tide against climate change and head off a massive, thoughtless and irreversible extinction of other species. Ours is the generation that can, and must, solve the unresolved conundrum of combining economic well-being with environmental sustainability. We will need science, technology and professionalism, but most of all we will need to subdue our fears and cynicism. John F.Kennedy reminded us that peace will come by recognizing our common wealth. "If we can not end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal."

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Tibet Conflict

I have been watching closely the events unfolding in Tibet and the outlying provinces of China over the past week. Everyday the news is more disturbing and painful. I have spent quite a bit of time in Tibet and feel a strong connection to the Tibetan people and more and more a great distaste for the Chinese regime.

Cell-phone photographs and videos from Lhasa, blurry and amateur, are circulating around. Some show clouds of tear gas; others burning buildings and shops; still others purple-robed monks, riot police, and confusion.

That covert cell phones have become the most important means of transmitting news from certain parts of East Asia is no accident. Lhasa, Rangoon, Xinjiang, and North Korea: All of these places are, directly or indirectly, dominated by the same media-shy, publicity-sensitive Chinese regime. When we landed in Lhasa the first time we were told before boarding our bus that in fact our hotel rooms would be bugged and the very bus we were about to board would be bugged. And if we even uttered the title 'Dalai Lama' or made the most subtle reference to being a pro-Tibetan Westerner, we would be sent home immediately.

Though we don't usually think of it this way, China is, in fact, a vast, anachronistic, territorial empire, within which one dominant ethnic group, the Han Chinese, rules over a host of reluctant "captive nations." Over 80% of every business in Lhasa is owned and operated by a Han Chinese. To keep the peace, the Chinese use methods of political manipulation, secret police repression, and military force. I have seen it with my own eyes in the streets of Lhasa.

For more proof that this is so, look no further than the biography of Hu Jintao, the current Chinese president—and also the former Communist Party boss of Tibet. In 1988 and 1989, at the time of the last major riots, Hu was responsible both for the brutal repression of dissident Tibetan monks and dissidents and for what the Dalai Lama has subsequently called China's policy of "cultural genocide": the importation of thousands of ethnic Han Chinese into Tibet's cities in order to dilute and eventually outbreed the ethnic Tibetan population.

Clearly, the repression of Tibet matters enormously to the members of China's ruling clique, or they would not have promoted Hu, its mastermind, so far. The pacification of Tibet must also be considered a major political and propaganda success, or it would not have been copied by the Chinese-backed Burmese regime last year and repeated by the Chinese themselves in Tibet last week.

Keep that in mind, over the next few days and months, as China tries once again to belittle Tibet, to explain away a nationalist uprising as a bit of vandalism. The last week's riots began as a religious protest: Tibet's monks were demonstrating against laws that, among other things, require them to renounce the dalai lama. The monks' marches then escalated into generalized, unplanned, anti-Chinese violence, culminating in attacks on Han Chinese shops and businesses, among them—as you can see on the cell-phone videos—the Lhasa branch of the Bank of China.
However the official version evolves, in other words, make no mistake about it: This was not merely vandalism, it could not have been solely organized by outsiders, it was not only about the Olympics, and it was not the work of a tiny minority. It was a significant political event, proof that the Tibetans still identify themselves as Tibetan, not Chinese. As such, it must have significant reverberations in Beijing.

And if they aren't worried, they should be. After all, the history of the last two centuries is filled with tales of strong, stable empires brought down by their subjects, undermined by their client states, overwhelmed by the national aspirations of small, subordinate countries. Why should the 21st century be any different? Watching the tear gas roll over the streets of Lhasa yesterday on a blurry, cell-phone video, I couldn't help but wonder when—maybe not in this decade, this generation, or even this century—Tibet and its monks will have their revenge.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Your Success is Dictated By Your Ropeteam

It is a basic premise in my keynote address and one that is quite obvious to most who are involved in a teamwork setting....the fact that you will win or lose with your team...your fate is inextricably connected to those you choose to put on your ropeteam. I have seen this play out in the mountains first hand many times over the course of my 15 year climbing career...but I have now seen it clearly illustrated in my professional life as well.

In early 2007, I was approached by a local, small market speaker bureau to go "exclusive" with them regarding all of my speaking events. This initially appeared to be a wonderful opportunity in developing my speaking career which was already moving with great momentum. I was honored and excited about what laid ahead. This local bureau promised me a minimum of events which would easily satisfy my needs. The future was bright.

I knew something was wrong about 6 months into the year and this bureau had yet to secure even 1 event for me. The year proceeded in this fashion as they failed to perform on a very clear level. They made promises they were unable to fulfill.

In my excitement to 'team up' with an organization that I believed in, I neglected to really discover with whom I was linking my fate. Where their principles in line with mine?

-Open communication between all teammembers.
-Strong and driven leadership.
-Leadership that is open to change and thrives on communication.
-Respected amongst colleagues.
-A group based on integrity.

Months into the year long contract I realized that I had roped up with a team that was far from sharing my vision of success and on top of that, was incapable of performing as they had claimed. This lead to a painful year of loss as my momentum slipped away.

But as 2008 rang in, I was fortunate enough to come in contact with a group of folks that shared all of the same characteristics with me... and as a bonus was one of the top agencies in the country. My prayers were answered.

I am now thrilled to be working with The Agency Speakers. They are as good as it gets...a team that works together effectively, strives for integrity and communicates openly. All of the ingredients necessary for success.

Currently I have already booked more events in 2008 than I did all of 2007...just due to my new team. My momentum is back and all is good on my rope team.

Win together, lose together. Your fate is shared. One of the most critical decisions you will ever make is who you rope up with.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Involvement vs Commitment

Perhaps many of you have heard some variation of the story about the chicken and the pig when it comes to involvement vs. commitment.

The basic premise:

Think about a meal consisting of eggs and ham and consider the contributions made by a chicken and a pig. A chicken provided the eggs and a pig provided the ham. It can be said the chicken was involved, because the chicken continues to live as it lays more eggs. It can be said the pig was committed, because the pig gave its all to provide the ham and other pork products.

This is one of those "motivational" stories that sounds real good when you read it, and I've heard some of my colleagues use it during teambuilding sessions for various companies to motivate their staff towards being committed as opposed to just being involved. But continuing to follow that analogy probably isn't what management had in mind, nor is it what most workers want to do with their lives.

The chicken is contributing at a long term, sustainable level. She's able to keep giving, as her output is renewable. The pig, however, is screwed. He gives everything at a single burst, and that's it. No more pig, and he needs to be replaced. While the "farmer" gains from both levels of contribution, the pig isn't around to see the benefits. The farmer's out looking for another pig.

And the chicken? She's just sitting there, laying more eggs, and continually providing for the farmer. I don't think there are many employees who want to be the pig. Everyone who is part of the team would much rather be the chicken. And the next time a motivational speaker uses that analogy, think about it... Do you want to go down in a blaze of glory, or do you want to produce over the long term?

Friday, February 8, 2008

Sherpas: Bad Gear, Great Attitude

Sherpas are a big part of climbing lore and legend. Ever since westerners began flowing into the Himalayas in the nineteenth century to seek adventure, they have relied upon the local guides to help them navigate the treacherous terrain. While a few Sherpas have gained fame from their own work, most often they are the unsung heroes of the climbing world. They’re always present and they always do the hardest work, yet they receive little of the credit.

My first experience with Sherpas came in 2001 when Erik and I set off to Nepal. I was immediately struck by how much they seemed in contrast to their western climbing counterparts. Whereas American and European climbers tended to be loud and boisterous, the Sherpas were quiet and reserved. We would share puffed-up stories of our adventures around the world while they said very little, except to occasionally praise us for a well-told story.

While I realized right away that Sherpas had a very different way of looking at things, I didn’t fully understand how helpful and wonderful they really were until I had finished the trip and arrived back home. I had just returned from Nepal and felt like I was still on the top of the world, literally and figuratively. I had gone to the world’s biggest mountain, and with a blind man in tow! Wanting to stay in my rock star state of mind a while longer, I decided to take a look at some of the pictures our expedition photographer, Didrik Johnk, had sent over.

The photos told a great story. There were snapshots of the exotic places we’d seen, along with images from the climb itself. In one, we were crossing a deadly section of crevasses. In another, we clung to our ropes and axes while fighting our way up. And finally, there was a shot that captured us high on the mountain – striding through the Geneva Spur, deep on the mountain near Camp Four. I beamed with pride as I looked down at our photos from the top, and was about to toss them aside when one caught my eye. Something seemed a bit out of place, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. There we were, smiling wildly and being heroes. What could be wrong with that?

Then I noticed the detail that was getting to me. Standing in the background was one of our Sherpa colleagues. While we were whooping and celebrating under layers of high-tech, very expensive climbing gear, he was looking contentedly at the sky in a pair of blue jeans. And not even designer jeans, but a pair of knock-offs you’d find in a discount store. How could this be? I was bundled under several layers of Gore-Tex and goose down, all designed to keep me warm and alive in a place where life shouldn’t be. This man looked like he was taking a stroll in the park. Mount Everest, especially near the top, is known as a ‘death zone’ for its extreme cold, wind, and lack of oxygen. True, our Sherpa friend was carrying a canister of oxygen, but it was for me!

At that moment, I started to realize who the real rock stars were. Our Sherpa friends had shown up every day and done everything asked of them and more, without the slightest hint of impatience or complaint. My recollection of this is not unique. Every single climber I’ve talked to since, when asked, has vouched for the Sherpas’ remarkable mindset. Their willingness to take on any challenge for the team without expecting recognition of any kind is an amazing trait. For them, nothing is ever too hard, too heavy, or too long.

Physiologically, many people think Sherpas hold a genetic advantage in the mountains. This idea was so compelling that a major study was done to examine them. A team of researchers ran many body composition comparisons between Sherpa and Western climbers, dissecting many of our basic human functions as they relate to
high-altitude stress. After a solid year of computing and comparing, they found we are all basically the same. When I heard this, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. It just proved to me what I already knew: Sherpas have important qualities that are just not quantifiable. So how do they do it? It’s simple, they outwork us.

They do indeed have something we don’t, but it’s not in their lungs or their blood cells, it’s an attitude that pushes them to consistently overachieve. They treat every task as if it’s the most important in the world, every person like they’re a close friend, and every day like it could be their last. Sherpas don’t do it for money and glory, they do it because it’s a way of life. From the first to the last, they make it their mission to be worthy of being counted on. How much better would our world be if more people could adopt this attitude? In our world, it seems so important to take credit. Everybody wants to be in the spotlight, to get the biggest and the best. The real heroes aren’t usually the ones getting the awards, they’re the people getting it done every day. Forget trying to imitate actors and sports stars. If you want to stand out, be like a Sherpa.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Diversity and Teamwork

One of the main points of my MountainVision keynote message is the idea that one must put the team ahead of their own aspirations in order to truly acheive success. This is obviously critical and quite fundamental...but in my conversations with several organizational leaders recently, a discussion grew from this concept that proved to be interesting...

The idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts or that groups working together can come up with higher solutions than individuals can on their own can be a very challenging concept especially if you are the team leader. As individuals we enjoy being recognized for our education, our status, our seniority. Our academic system rewards individual achievement. Awards and honors, medals and trophies are granted for the efforts of the one. This seems to be even more pronounced in the Gen Y'ers. Teamwork however, is different in that the accolades and credit for achievements are shared equally by all in the group or unit. In order for the sharing of praise to be mutually beneficial to the group each team member must have respect and appreciation for their fellow teammates and a genuine sense of desire for their fellow team members to succeed.

The big question is: how do we create a culture in which individuals from different backgrounds, with different educations and from different levels of society "want" to function together as a group to the mutual success of that group and of the company the group works for?

The answer is in building relationships among the team members. We all have relationships. We may tend to think of relationships with work mates as less important than our personal relationships. However, we will spend one third of our lives with the people we work with. That being the case, it would seem wise to cultivate relationships with those individuals that would be conducive to success both individually and as a collective.

True teamwork culture can be seen when observing children at play who are all about the same age. Most young children have an almost innate sense of community. They share readily (most of the time) and take suggestions from one another without prejudice (most of the time). Give them a bunch of crayons or building toys and they will each contribute to whatever is being done freely. They don't seem to care about the color of their playmates skin, or how much money their parents make or where they live. All that seems to matter is that they are all on the playground or at recess and the object is to have fun. They carry on as if they were one big happy family (albiet there is the ever present conflict and power battle on the playground just as there is in the workplace)

Another name for teamwork culture is "family." There are different kinds of family. What I'm talking about is creating a familial environment through fun, shared experiences that break down the barriers between departments and individuals and release the creative energy that contributes to the success of any organization.

Ultimately, it is not the quality of an organization's products or services that will ensure its success but the loyalty of its workforce to its missions and goals. What are you most loyal to? Is it not to your "friends" and "family?" Who would you rather see succeed? Is it not those individuals you feel closest to, or at least feel some type of connection to? The foregoing is the reason why multi-million dollar organizations are spending literally millions of dollars every year sending their groups to teamwork camps, go through team building exercises or send groups on leadership expeditions with MountainVision. The thrust behind all team building experiences to create a fun relaxed environment in which individuals who perhaps we're not quite as familiar with one another might get to know things about their teammates that would better help them understand the people they work with. Once these fun experiences have been shared by the group it is easier to draw on the good feeling created by those experiences to be more tolerant of a co-workers idiosyncrasies even welcome their sometimes "quirky" view of things. A true teamwork culture values the diversity of its members and regularly draws on that diversity to accomplish its goals. Diversity connects the team.

What kinds of activities can help create this kind of culture? Well, think of what fun did for you when you were a kid. Activities should be a fun learning experience. Experiencial learning has tremendous value and connects teams together. And you don't have to invest millions of dollars to train your people. Family picnics where you play games that bring people together carry only the cost of the food.
MountainVision's Leadership Expeditions. We provide private treks to inspiring and exotic locations around the world where we will facilitate powerful teamwork messages over our evening meals. These discussions will be summarized and sent back to the organizational family where they can be shared and discussed within the entire company. Another powerful way to experience teamwork on a deeper level.

It really comes down to creating a bond that goes beyond the monochromic relationships we often engage in at work. By developing friendships, we create the ability to share and optimize...both at work and at home.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Improv and Teamwork

My brother is an actor living in Brooklyn, NY. He often participates in plays and improv theatrical sessions. We were talking yesterday about how intricate the teamwork principle is when he is performing with an improv group. After a few minutes of discussion, I realized there were some very valuable lessons to be considered here...so I picked up a pen.

Lesson One: It’s not about you. Although you are on the team, it’s never really about you. It’s about making everyone else look good. When you do your part and your intention is to be there for the other team members, then everyone is a star. It’s not your job to get the limelight, to get the last word or deliver the funniest line. It’s your job to make everyone else look good. When you focus on yourself, you do so at the expense of the team.

Lesson Two: Go with the flow. In improv, you never know what the other person will do, so it’s easy to get thrown off guard. When you are caught off guard, the natural response is to resist instead of looking for agreement. When you are used to being in control it’s difficult to let go. If you are in a position of power you are used to planning and facilitating but you forget what it’s like to participate. It’s easy to ask others to step up but when you go with the flow you become a participant instead of the controller.

Lesson Three: Trust is paramount. In order to have a great team you must trust that your team members are there for you. They will rescue you when you stumble, they will catch you when you fall. After all, they also believe in the philosophy that it’s not about them, but it is about making you look good. What goes around comes around. The end result is a great customer experience and in improv the audience is the customer.

Lesson Four: Growth takes courage. In order to learn something new we have to be willing to leave our comfort zone momentarily and that takes the courage to risk. When you believe that everyone on your team has your best interests at heart, and that you will not be judged your capacity for courage is maximized. You can only risk when you have trust, when you have learned to go with the flow, you let go of judgment, and when you’ve been on the giving and receiving end of the philosophy that “it isn’t about you."

Its striking how similar these messages are for so many of the companies and organizations I speak to regularly. The truth is...these themes are applicable in every aspect of our lives, both professionally and privately.

Thanks bro!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Passing Of The Man Who Paved The Way

Certain historical adventurers will always remain on the upper tier of those that embody the true essence of world seekers...

Ernest Shackleton , Reinhold Messner, Leif Erickson, Robert E. Peary, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark are some of my favorites, simply based on the level of commitment that each of them took to achieve their objective.

However, the man that I have the most sentimental connection to is the legendary Sir Edmund Hillary who passed away today at the age of 88.

I met Sir Hillary in New Zealand a few years ago. Once I overcame my initial nervous, star struck sensation, I found Sir Hillary to be exceptionally congenial and downright sweet. He signed the New Zealand $5 note which bears his image and upon returning home I had my new autographed Kiwi dollar bill framed and hung with pride on my office wall.

The man who shared the Everest summit with Sir Hillary, Tenzing Norgay passed away in 1986.

As the two of them approached the summit of Everest they encountered a rocky buttress a mere 20 minutes from the top. This would prove to be a crucial move of the last part of the ascent, the 40-foot (12 m) rock face later named the "Hillary Step". Hillary saw a means to wedge his way up a crack in the face between the rock wall and ice, and Tenzing followed.
The remarkable thing about this section is when the expedition ws studying all of the reconnaissance photos prior to the ascent, no one had seen this formidable obstacle. I feel that this section would have turned around a lesser couple of men. Instead, these guys just fired up it. I thought of him as I was flailing myself that same section of rock.

They reached the summit at 11:30 am. As Hillary put it, "A few more whacks of the ice axe in the firm snow, and we stood on top." They spent only about 15 minutes at the summit and forged the way for the rest of us for generations.

A legend.
7/20/19 - 1/11/08

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Those Birds Are Friends

I feel that I am learning as much from my 2 and 1/2 year old little boy as he is from me. He continues to astound me with his insight and wit.

Yesterday we watched as a flock of geese flew in formation over our backyard. After a few seconds of Dad's commentary, my son said in his toddler speak, "Those birds are flying together because they are friends."

Exactly...friends that need each other to get where they are going.

When you see geese flying along in "V" formation, you might consider what science has discovered as to why they fly that way. As each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in "V" formation, the whole flock adds at least 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own. People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going more quickly and easily because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.

When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone - and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front. If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in formation with those people who are headed the same way we are.

When the head goose gets tired, it rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point. It is sensible to take turns doing demanding jobs, whether with people or with geese flying south. Geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

For those road cycling enthusiasts…this is an obvious tactic for the Peleton...even among competitors.

What messages do we give when we honk from behind? Finally - and this is important - when a goose gets sick or is wounded by gunshot, and falls out of formation, two other geese fall out with that goose and follow it down to lend help and protection. They stay with the fallen goose until it is able to fly or until it dies, and only then do they launch out on their own, or with another formation to catch up with their group.If we have the sense of a goose, we will stand by each other like that.

Oh the insight of a 2 and 1/2 year old.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Thinking Big

The idea of climbing Mount Everest came to us slowly. In the years after we finally scaled Aconcagua, we kept looking around the globe for new challenges. We didn’t have a checklist or a specific dream we were looking to fulfill, we just never felt like we were finished. Along the way, we’d picked up the idea of finishing the seven summits, the highest points on each of the continents. In addition to Denali and Aconcagua, we’d completed Kilimanjaro in Africa and Elbrus in Russia. There was one glaring exception, which happened to be the highest in the world.

Erik and I got together in May of 2000 to try and find the next adventure. We both agreed we’d accomplished some big things, but now we wanted to do something outrageous, something no one thought we could finish. This time, there was no doubt as to where we’d go. There was only one place, one peak, one summit that would satisfy us-- Everest.

Of course we were familiar with the mountain. As climbers we’d read all the books and seen all the movies. We had friends and acquaintances who’d tried the mountain and even a few that
had made it to the top. But could we realistically give it a go?

We poured ourselves into the task of learning more about it. We talked about all the technical and logistical difficulties we’d face, along with problems we probably hadn’t even thought of that were bound to pop up. In the end, we decided we wouldn’t be able to forgive ourselves if we didn’t at least give it a try.

To embark upon an Everest expedition is a massively expensive undertaking. Flights, gear, Sherpa assistance, and especially permits from the Nepali government are all heavy costs. Just to get there and back would cost more than most families spend on a home. We knew that in order to raise the kind of sponsorship money we’d need, we’d have to go public with our goal.

We also knew the moment we did, there would be no shortage of people telling us it was a bad idea, and we weren’t disappointed.

Within a matter of days, a small army of outspoken doubters came out of the woodwork. Many well-known Everest experts went on the record saying it was foolish and dangerous to try to take a blind man to the world’s highest point. Many suggested, either subtly or directly, that Erik would almost certainly die, and possibly the rest of the team as well. They said we didn’t realize what we were in for and, while we’d had some success, this would be impossible. They pointed out most sighted climbers couldn’t make it to the top. They went on and on, publicly and privately. Erik and I must have heard a thousand reasons why it wouldn’t work. We listened to their concerns, but we didn’t agree. After all we’d been through together, there just wasn’t room for their disbelief. They were experts on Everest, but they weren’t experts
on us.

Because we believed in ourselves, we found others who believed in us, too. It began with our families and friends, who pitched in from the start with emotional support and encouragement.
From there, it spread to others who heard about our ambitions. One by one, climbers signed on to be a part of our team. Major sponsors, some of whom had never worked with us before, lined
up behind us. Many had never funded a climbing expedition, but they pledged their money to help us do the impossible.

In the end, I think the support we got from everyone who helped us was worth much more than the money and gear they gave. We didn’t want to rest on our past success. To go further and higher, we needed to surround ourselves with people who weren’t afraid to do something that seemed impossible. They shared our vision to send a blind man to the top of the world.

We’d set a huge goal for ourselves, and if we were going to fail, it was going to be on the way to the top of the world, not at home thinking about it.