Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Business Lessons from Hiking

Business Strategies

2011.10.04_GroupOfMenAs you may know from the posts about Climbing Mount Whitney, I’m preparing for a single day, 21 mile round trip hike to summit Mount Whitney next year.  I’m now 10 weeks into a 16 week training cycle.  The training has already reminded me of lessons that universally apply to our personal and professional lives. 
Here are three recurring themes and their associated lessons:
  1. Think One Thought at a Time
    No kidding, right?  This should be obvious for everything we do, but demanding schedules, the want to complete six things at once, and peer pressure guide the best of us into filling every moment with noise and perceptual input.

    Hiking has reminded me how easy it can be to find calmness, to clear your thoughts and find direction.  Walking any distance, even if it’s just for an hours, forces you to clear your mind.  Of course, I assume you avoid taking your phone or mp3 player and just let the nature sink in.  Almost at the beginning of every walk, I find myself thinking about all the things I have to do AFTER I finish the walk.  I used to tell myself to stop thinking about those things, but that only made me think of them more.  So, instead I let the list roll through to the end.  I may even linger on a few items to think through how to get them done. 

    My thoughts eventually come back to the walk.  This usually takes about 5 to 10 minutes. I begin to think about what I want to accomplish that day, the goal of hiking Mount Whitney, what challenges I may have, whether our team should consider doing it in two days instead of just one, how much food will I need, how can we save on total carried weight of equipment by sharing the list of navigational tools and some of the burden, and what new challenges would we take on after hiking Mount Whitney. 

    The point is that giving yourself freedom to think and focus on one item at a time has two important benefits.  First, you don’t have to work as hard in AVOIDING other thoughts.  Second, you gain in-depth insight about the idea at hand.  In essence, you’re giving yourself the freedom to deeply think through your task at hand, whether it’s how to successfully break into the pet food market, or to hike Mount Whitney.
  2. Avoid Never-Ending Marathons
    When I first started planning the Mount Whitney hike, I chose to train for 52 months without any breaks.  In other words, I looked at it as a year-long marathon that ended with…a marathon, namely the Mt. Whitney hike.  A friend reminded me that even marathon training is completed in cycles. The cycles can be intense and with intermittent goals.  Otherwise, the body’s too exhausted to actually complete the marathon.  In fact, when training for a marathon, you’re even supposed to take time off before the race so that you’re fully rested.

    The same holds true for hiking and work.  Intense preparations or projects certainly bring focus and clarity.  However, a project that never ends will demoralize you and your team, as well as deliver mediocre results at best.  This is especially true when the team gets closer to the end of the project when you may need a big push or effort from the team members.  They may need to put in longer hours or avoid all other distractions. This can’t be possible when the team has continuously pushed hard for one to two years. So, give yourself and the team a break between each big endeavor or project to enjoy the rewards of your accomplishments and prepare for the next big adventure. 

    You may want to consider short project cycles that deliver intermittent results.  These can be four to six week cycles with an extra day or two off in between, giving team members time to recuperate before coming in to tackle a new part of the project and pushing harder for the challenges ahead.

    In our case of hiking preparation, I created three cycles of 16-week training with two week breaks in between.  What’s more, each cycle becomes gradually more challenging, with a finale for each cycle that consists of a 12-16 mile hike in the local mountains ranging from 5,600 ft. to 12,000 ft. in altitude.  After the finale for each cycle there’s a two week rest period with very little to no physical activity.  This means that before the Mount Whitney hike, there’ll also be a two-week rest.
  3. Consider Your Team Mix as Dynamic
    We started out preparing for Mount Whitney with two people, increased to six, then dropping back down to two, and not the same two we started out with.  The current team consists of two people with a third that may join us.  Nevertheless, we keep moving forward.

    Often times people join a company, team, or adventure with the shared group goal, such as to introduce a new product to the market, provide better home elderly care, or assess needs and recommend products and services to people with special needs.  Team members may join in, then realize life circumstances prevent them from continuing with the rigor necessary to accomplish those goals.  You have to not only account for it, but accept this outcome as part of the process. 

    The team will go on so long as they remain focused on the mission and vision. There should be no blame, nor hurt feelings for those that can’t accompany you.  Often times, life circumstances that prevent someone from continuing now only mean they’ll join you again later with more focus and vigor.  So, you not only want to avoid alienating the individuals, but understanding their specific wants and needs, then supporting them at least through words and, if possible, through deeds.

What Do You Think?

I never ask you to agree with me, but just to share your ideas and opinion.  Feel free to comment on this or any other post.