I recently came within minutes of not making it off a 12,000 ft. mountain and directly to the ER to treat a heart attack I'd sustained while attacking the beast.
I won't bore you with the details but I can confirm that, if I hadn't had the assistance of an American Mountain Guiding Association-certified guide and the cool thinking of my climbing buddy cum radiologist, I wouldn't be sharing these tips.
The parallels between ascending a perilous mountain and starting, building and constantly reinventing a small business are striking.
One of the shared essentials is surrounding oneself with exactly the right mix of people. Here's what I learned the hard way:
1. Pick someone who's an expert in assuring you have all of the best materials (or services) at hand in order to manage the unexpected.
Your team should scenario plan everything from a huge order that will strain your capacity to deliver to a product recall that mandates removing your product from the current distribution system. My guide had a satellite phone as well as knowing an obscure five-mile trail that led to a tram that provided both oxygen and an immediate descent to 8,000 feet. That proved to be a life-saver.
2. Match the job requirements to the candidate's previous experience.
It may seem obvious, but how many organizations have hired and then fired the seemingly ideal candidate? I typically interview every new climbing guide before engaging him to lead me up a new peak. That includes checking not only his experience, but reviews on his style, technique and personality. Making a mistake in overlooking any one of those "hard" and "soft" abilities can put your very life (or business) at risk.
3. Stay on the trail.
Too many climbers (and too many businesses) have strayed into dangerous situations by taking shortcuts to the top. Climbers typically get lost, and many perish from hypothermia. Small businesses blazing a new trail can unwittingly put a severe strain on their existing customer base as well as sacrificing the quality and service of an already established business model. Bushwhacking, in climbing or business, requires advance information on conditions, a rock-solid belief that the new trail will be a catalyst to success and the steely reserve and composure to either see it through (or turn around).
4. Make sure you're safe before coming to the aid of others.
Climbers, guides and even search-and-rescue teams have put themselves in unexpected, and extreme, danger by not making sure that they, themselves, are safe and secure before helping others. The same holds true for your team. Before your head of sales volunteers to help his floundering peer in marketing, be sure she's put everything in order in her own house, appointed a trusted lieutenant to mind key accounts and assigned hunters to keep the sales pipeline full. Otherwise, you won't need marketing since there won't be any customers or prospects left to reach.
Carry a list of emergency contacts. Before starting a climb up, say, Cotopaxi in the Ecuadorean Andes, I made sure I had the cell phone numbers of my guides and teammates just in case I became separated from the pack and needed immediate assistance. Likewise, you, and your top lieutenants MUST have each other's contact information in your possession at ALL times. Major crises have a nasty habit of occurring in the dead of night, over weekends and during vacations. And, when your business is threatened, speed (and a consensus of your best minds on what steps to take or not take) is of the essence.
I'll end on an upbeat note with my favorite Edward Abbey quote, "May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into, and above, the clouds."
That most certainly applies to climbers, entrepreneurs and everyone in-between.