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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Fisk

Climbing the Next Cliff

Just a little something to think about this week… Have you ever gone climbing? Not just hiking a mountain, I mean rock climbing a cliff face. If you have, you’ll understand this thought, if not, stay with me and I’ll explain.

The risks we take as human beings are calculated. They are always calculated. Whether you come to the proper conclusion or not, you always think about the risks involved with a decision. According to a quick search on Google, humans make about 35,000 decisions every day. Another study says you only make 70 a day. But whatever. No matter the number, there are decisions made and our brain is built to take into account every other piece of knowledge we have to make the best decision we can possibly make. Let’s throw this thought into my climbing analogy:

Whether you are a climber that has a harness and ropes or a freestyle climber going to heights unheard of without ropes, you take a series of risks every time you climb. What we are doing with our business launch is often like a rock climb. We must have a team of people around us to provide us with equipment, knowledge of the rock face and encouragement along the way. We take on smaller business projects like bouldering or climb a similar mountain in our home city before we fly across the world to conquer a famous rock. We train our bodies, our brains and our soul for what is ahead of us. We prepare for what is in front us the best we can. Then we start. We take the first step up the cliff. At the very beginning, it’s easy to step back down and try a different line, once you get a little higher, you’ve committed and you’ll have to make it happen. During a climb, you often feel stuck. You’re hanging by your fingertips and digging your toes in for better grip while you search for the next hand hold. You holler for ideas to your team on the ground or friend climbing with you. You make a decision to reach for an outcropping just at the edge of your arm. You take a deep breath and jump….

You don’t know if you’ll make it. You might slip as you try to grab the rock. The rock may break. There are a million things that could go wrong. If they do and you have a rope, your belayer will catch you. If you don’t, you’ll fall. That decision looks different whether you have a rope on or not. Without a rope, your choice to leap would be founded on very concrete data knowing that you’d stick the landing. With a rope, you’d be more likely to just take the risk and try.

Translate this to your life. Are you a climber with a rope or without a rope? With a rope you’ll take greater individual risks knowing you have a safety net. Without a rope you won’t take as many great individual risks but rather your entire climb is a risk. A freestyle climber must devote all his time and energy to climbing if he wants to see success. That decision to leap must be made with concrete data and the only way you get that is by climbing all the time. A climber with a rope doesn’t need the experience. Free style is like a life style and with ropes is like a job.

For us right now it’s launching a business. Entrepreneurship. Many start-ups fail. I should probably say most start-ups fail. Start-ups often act like a freestyle climber without all the experience needed for success. Whether you climb with ropes or not, whether you act like a freestyle climber or are one, or if you are an entreprenuer that is running a company – I’ve identified three keys that every start-up and climber must have. 1.) Personal Commitment. 2.) Team around them. 3.) Clearly communicated vision and purpose. 

Personal commitment means that the entrepreneur commits everything to the vision and purpose of the business. Committing everything requires your time, money and experience. Pouring your very heart and life into the vision and purpose is the only way to succeed. Now of course your heart and life must be healthy and thriving for true success – things like creating space and time for your wife and children comes before the business because if those aren’t right, the business will fall apart too.

I’ve definitely felt the pressure and stress of starting this company just in the last few months. My personal bank account is bleeding faster than ever. My work days often start early in the morning and end early the next morning. My brain feels like it is on overload much of the time. From past experience and wise people around me, I’ve done my best to create the time needed for my wife and daughter, putting away the phone and computer to truly give them my attention, but there always seems to be that pressure and stress in the background waiting to be resolved.

A way to balance this pressure and stress that personal commitment puts on you for success of your business is to have a team.

Team can be just a couple people or a bunch of people. Research says that once you have more than 10-12 people on a team, you should split into multiple teams but regardless of that, you must have a team. If you’re pouring your very life into your business and don’t have a team around you, loneliness and isolation will take over. It doesn’t have to be a team that is actually doing the business with you even, just a team of advisors, friends and people who will speak truth to you when you need it the most. Those people will tell you to spend more time at the office to get the work done if you’re slacking but at the same time encourage you to be fully present with your family. The team can be involved in the everyday or just observing from the outside but you must invite them to be a part of your startup. Team is important. The problem with team is that you have several different voices and opinions now speaking into one business. Therefore to offset the issues that arise with that, you must have a clear vision and purpose.

Most organizations and businesses have a mission statement or purpose statement. They also have slogans and tag lines. Many companies publish values, the things they believe are the most important qualities of their company. All those things are great but if your team doesn’t understand the clear purpose or vision of your business, you’ll come off the tracks very quickly.

Coca-Cola has a mission statement that reads: “To refresh the world in mind, body and spirit. To inspire moments of optimism and happiness through our brands and actions.” Amazon says: “Our vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

These two large companies have success because they defined their purpose. Whether to refresh the world or to be an online store for the world, they have succeeded.

Both Amazon and Coca-Cola, have values, slogans and objectives as businesses too. Those don’t and won’t define success. Purpose and Vision do. The glue that holds an organization together is the purpose.

So back to the climber. He is climbing an enormous mountain. How does he succeed? First, he personally commits. He pours his time and money into training and preparation. He gathers a team of like-minded climbers to assist in everything from discussing the proper route to take up the mountain to deciding which weather appropriate day to make the ascent. And finally, he communicates very clearly to himself and his team what the main purpose and vision of this climb would be… whether a simple: “Get to the Top.” Or more audacious “Be a world record holder for number of climbs.” The vision should be clear.

At the end of the day, if all goes well, we get to the top. We accomplish our purpose. But along the way, we must stay true to that vision and keep moving. For us, we have been reaching outcroppings along the way to stand on and look towards our next goal. Sometimes we’re dangling hundreds of feet up in the air in a hammock trying to get some rest. Other times we are climbing with our head focused on the next hand hold or step. Still other times we are leaping, taking a chance, a risk, a calculated decision.

Where are you? My hope is that I never stop climbing. That I will continue to reach my goals and complete my visions. But then climb the next cliff. And the next. And the next….

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