• Timo Römer

Would you climb a mountain unprepared?



The best adventures always start with this crazy thought. It is this picture you just saw, the

book you just read or the conversation with a total stranger that sparks an idea. Once you

have it will not go away until you finally commit and do it. Now the difficult part: Let’s say

you want to climb El Capitan in Yosemite National Park - a rock wall 1000m straight up.

Would you just book a flight to San Francisco, drive to the foot of El Capitan and start

climbing? I bet you wouldn’t or, as Walther the mountain guide we recently had the

pleasure to climb with, would say: “That would be unhealthy and that’s why we don’t do

it!”.


What we often observe in business is very similar to climbing adventures: Business owners

have proven to be successful and have built a rock solid non-digital business. Now the

plan is to expand the business through digital products - fantastic idea! We love that!


Quite often we hear comparisons to amazon, netflix, google and others that are making

billions with digital products. Billions sound nice, so a lot of money is committed and the

digital adventure started. The thing is - like being good at climbing indoors doesn’t

necessarily prepare you to climb a 1000 meter “big wall” - building a non digital business

doesn’t necessarily prepare you for the digital expansion adventure you just jumped into.


Let’s assume we want to climb El Capitan. How would we approach the fulfillment of our

“crazy goal”?



Gathering information


Before jumping on a mountain side we would gather information, like: Difficulty (in

climbing: grade), topography, time & equipment required, places to sleep on and off the

wall. We usually study pictures, read reports, talk to people that have climbed similar walls

before, watch youtube videos and step by step understand how big the challenge is! To

ensure we approach this in the right way the following questions can help structure the

information gathering and collected information:

  • What are the things we need to learn (or even master)?

  • What are the tools (equipment) we need?

  • Whom do we need in the team for this adventure?


How does this translate to the business side of things?


The reason we have chosen the climbing example is not only because we love climbing but

also because the approach is similar. Swap out all the climbing vocabulary and you have

the exact same things to do. Information gathering about customers, markets, potential

business models, technologies, software architecture, hosting, agile, scrum, kanban, …

the list goes on and on. The best part is - the questions that we used to structure the

information are the same:

  • What are the things we need to learn?

  • What are the tools we need?

  • Whom do we need in the team for this (ad)venture?

Once we have answers to all the questions above we are selecting the team.



Selecting & training the team


Important for the team selection is the connection to the goal: Everyone should identify

with it - everyone should really want to climb that wall, bring that product to market or

start that business. Beyond that the team members should be willing to support each other

and put their egos behind the goal. You want people on your team that are able to be

honest and transparent - because in the end your life or business depends on their

judgement of the situation. If you have a diverse team that has different views of the

problem or goal you are trying to solve you are set up for success.

Next you need to ensure that the team has the right skills needed for the venture.

Training the necessary skills is so important we cannot emphasize this enough. For most

people it comes quite naturally that before you put your life or business in danger you train

for it. To stay with the climbing analogy - if you want to venture outside for longer climbs

one would:

  • Start climbing multiple rope lengths where you need to carry up a backpack

  • Learn how to sleep on a wall

  • Learn how first aid works and how to rescue someone out on a big wall

  • Practice what you have learned until even stressful situations are easy to handle

  • Go on extended trips with the team and practice what you have learned

  • Build a trusting relationship within the team.

For the application to business we need to exchange the climbing skills with what you

learned during your skill gap analysis and you are good to go. The last three points are

always applicable:

  • Practice what you have learned until even stressful situations are easy to handle

  • Go on extended trips with the team and practice what you have learned

  • Build a trusting relationship within the team.

Besides the skills someone with experience in the field can dramatically increase the

success rate of projects. Going with mountain climbing again: You would ideally want

someone on this trip that has climbed El Capitan or a similar big wall before.



The plan


Plans are there to change. Still the process of “planning” is vital to bring the things you

know into a structure and figure out where to start.


First of all: If you want to ensure that the team executes the plan well later they should be

involved in the creation. And not just in a listening fashion. Active participation is vital to

ensure that everyone understands the plan, their role and contribution towards the goal.

We plan while keeping in mind that everything might turn out differently while we are on

the wall or learning new things in a business area not explored before. It is important that

the whole project team understands the impact of changes to the plan at all times - either

for their own decisions or in support of decisions taken by others. Being flexible and not

stuck to a plan allows the team to handle surprises and emergencies better because they

know that the plan is not set in stone and that they have all the information they need to

adjust and amend based on the situation at hand.

This is true for climbing a mountain where the planned route might be a dead end or a

formerly known area has changed due to weather or erosion as well as in business where

the market can change rapidly or a global pandemic might alter the needs of the customers

almost instantly.



Starting the (ad)venture


Now we have reached the point where the fun starts: We start executing our plan with a

team that we know is equipped well, trusts each other, is committed to the goal, has all the

skills needed and knows how to deal with surprises and emergencies.


All we can do now is enjoy the way AND constantly assess the situation. In big wall climbing

it is for example: weather, timetable, food and water, shelter, equipment. In digital

expansion adventures it is: budget, timetable, performance of the business model,

message market fit, customer acceptance, ...


In adventures in the mountains as well as in business we need to adjust our plan on the fly

as needed and mentally we are always prepared to retreat but equally prepared to push

hard and try everything to achieve our goal.


Would you climb a mountain unprepared?

97 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All