How to conquer your own Dawn Wall
June 10, 2015 | Business inspiration
For many, the ascent of the Dawn Wall this past winter was an interesting news story, marking the first time this new route on Yosemite’s El Capitan was climbed. For me, who’d spent the last six months climbing (and falling) on the walls in my local climbing gym, this story was nothing short of amazing. Watching Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson slowly and painfully work their way up this nearly featureless wall – including the infamous pitch 15, where both climbers held on by fingertips above a 1,300 foot fall – was the motivation I needed to go from sticking to safer, easier climbs to trying harder routes, and becoming a better climber.
That’s why, at this year’s Festival of Media Global, there was just one person I wanted to hear from more than any media agency exec or worldwide brand CMO – Kevin Jorgeson delivered a keynote speech that, for me, was the most inspiring of the entire event. And it doesn’t take climbing skills to come away with insights from his speech: everyone in the audience could understand the thrill of conquering such a huge personal challenge. While I might still be a ways off from climbing the Dawn Wall, here are the five lessons I took away from Jorgeson’s story to help you conquer your own Dawn Wall in business.
Have a close relationship with failure
As Jorgeson said in his keynote, the most likely outcome of his attempt to climb the Dawn Wall was failure – both he and his climbing partner Tommy Caldwell knew that from the beginning. Yet accepting failure as a possible – even likely – outcome didn’t mean the pair didn’t try their hardest. Knowing what they were doing was near impossible was what gave Caldwell and Jorgeson the drive to continue attempting to climb Yosemite’s Dawn Wall every winter for six years, until they finally succeeded. Anyone who’s ever started a company knows that failure is more than just possible, it’s likely – what you do after accepting that likelihood (and how to avoid it) is what matters.
Collaboration is key – especially when tested
Few businesses out there would say that collaboration isn’t important, but partnerships and working relationships take on a whole new light when put to the test. Jorgeson and his climbing Tommy Caldwell had to face the very real possibility of their partnership coming to an end just one week this past winter, when Jorgeson was stuck halfway through on one of the hardest pitches of the Dawn Wall. Caldwell had already finished this section, and could have continued onto the end alone – but instead, he decided to wait until Jorgeson could catch up, which he ultimately did. Both men finished the climb, ending the six-year journey the same way it started: together. It’s an inspiring lesson all organisations should bear in mind: collaboration isn’t just about working well together, but sticking together when facing challenges, too.
It’s not always about being the best, but being the first
Jorgeson and Caldwell are some of the best climbers in the world, but they’re certainly not the only world-class climbers who could complete this gruelling climb – Jorgeson was the first to admit this in his session. What is unique about them, however, is that they were the only ones to conceive of this new route, and the only ones to put the work in to figuring out how to tackle what had previously seemed impossible. Startups like Uber and Airbnb have become so successful in part because they were the first to revolutionise the taxi and hotel industries and like Caldwell and Jorgeson, they didn’t work from existing problems to come up with solutions, but rewrote the problem entirely to come up with completely new ways of working.
Tell your story in the right way
Nearly every major media outlet in the world covered Jorgeson and Caldwell’s climb this year, and it wasn’t just because they succeeded this year – the media coverage started much earlier, when Jorgeson was stuck for a week and success looked very unrealistic. So what made the media pay attention this year, when Jorgeson and Caldwell had been trying every year since 2009? In part, it was because this year’s story was about much more than world-class athletes attempting a new challenge, but about the passion and dedication that had kept them going for years, even when it seemed impossible – qualities everyone can relate to.
Belief is great – but eventually you need to convert that into confidence
Every great business started out with nothing more than an idea and a belief – but faith in your idea will only get you so far. Back in 2009, Jorgeson believed he could tackle this challenging climb, despite not having any experience climbing on El Capitan. The turning point, however, came in January 2015, after years of practice, when experience gave Jorgeson the confidence to know he could finish it. Knowledge and experience are what turn hungry, passionate businesses into successful, long-lasting ones, and what give entrepreneurs the confidence to continue on, no matter how impossible the circumstances.
So what’s your Dawn Wall? We’d love to know!
Image from Festival of Media Global.