The mountain-climbing analogy is one we’re fond of in the Ho‘ohana Community — it all started with Kūlia i ka nu‘u, Chapter 5 in Managing with Aloha:
Kūlia i ka nu‘u is the value of accomplishment and achievement. The literal translation for Kūlia i ka nu‘u is “strive to reach the summit.” Those who have this value continually pursue improvement and personal excellence. For them, the most satisfying competition is with their previous selves: They consider their life and everything within it to be a work in progress, and they enjoy the effort. ‘Hard work’ is good work when it employs the energies of striving and reaching higher. Index with more.
More recently, I’m apt to talk about our “Aloha Value-Verbing Intentions” as 5 progressive peaks we climb in our striving as managers:
- Living with Aloha (as with the notion just Sunday Mālama’d that there is expertise to be learned in life)
- Working with Aloha
- Speaking with Aloha
- Managing with Aloha
- Leading with Aloha
So this interview with Sebastian Thrun got my attention, for it started with him talking about how he likes to use a mountain-climbing analogy when he thinks about products — if you’re not familiar with him, Thrun led the team that created Google Glass and the Google Self-Driving Car.
Here’s what he has to say:
You’ve developed a number of revolutionary products. How do you focus your energies at the beginning of a project?
When thinking about products, I like to use a mountain-climbing analogy. The first step is to pick a peak. Don’t pick a peak because it’s easy. Pick a peak because you really want to go there; that way you’ll enjoy the process.
The second thing is to pick a team you trust and that’s willing to learn with you. Because the way mountain climbing really works is that you can’t climb the entire route perfectly. You have to know that you are going to make mistakes, that you’ll have to turn around, and that you’ll have to recover.
You also have to maintain your sense of purpose. For a long time, it may feel like you’re on the wrong path, but you must have the resilience to forge ahead. You just have to keep moving uphill.
How does iteration figure into your process? Do you think it’s best to create a functional prototype as soon as possible?
To return to the mountain idea, if you think about it, there’s no other way to get up the mountain than taking a hundred thousand steps. You could have all the meetings and all the documentation and work for weeks on end to make the perfect plan. But in my opinion, all you’ve done at that point is lost time. You’ve done nothing. You’ve learned nothing.
Sure, if this mountain has been climbed ten thousand times before, then you just get the book, and the maps, and you follow the same steps. But that’s not innovation. Innovation is about climbing a mountain that no one has climbed before. So there ought to be some unknowns along the way because no one has solved the problem yet.
And when you’re innovating, sheer thinking just won’t work. What gets you there is fast iteration, and fast failing. And when you fail, you’ve done something great: you’ve learned something. In hindsight, it might look a little embarrassing, and people will say, “You should’ve known that.” But the truth is you couldn’t have known because it’s unchartered territory. Almost every entrepreneur I know has failed massively many, many times along the way.
You can read the entire interview at: When You Fail, You’ve Done Something Great, published by Jocelyn K. Glei. Thrun also speaks of making mistakes, having a playful mindset with experimentation, and ends with this reminder on the value of humility:
I think that the ability to see how much more there is to know and be humble about it is actually a good thing. Returning to the mountain metaphor, every mountain climber I know of feels small in the mountains and enjoys the feeling of being small. No matter what you do, the mountain is always bigger than you are.
~ Sebastian Thrun
A related post for more thought provocation: Piloting Projects: Job One is You