Perseverance

This blog is generally focused on topics in business, technology and change; often all three at the same time. However, from time to time, a personal post leaks in. This is one such post… or is it? Read to the end and then I will leave you to make up your own mind about this question.
 
 
Introduction

Over the years I have played many sports. For example, both cricket and rugby union consumed much of my youth. I have also recently got into mountain biking and really enjoy it. However, the activity that I am most engaged in currently is rock climbing, something that I alluded to at the beginning of a blog post yesterday. Rock climbing forms a very broad church and I have taken part in many aspects of it. However, for a number of reasons, I have gravitated to the sub-genre of bouldering over the last few years.

For the uninitiated, bouldering is climbing un-roped, often on actual boulders, but also on small outcrops and generally going no more than 5-6m (15-20 ft) off the ground. You carry around crash-pads (bouldering mats) with you to hopefully take the brunt of any falls. Indeed the idea with bouldering is to fall… to try again… and to fall again. In fact maybe Beckett had bouldering in mind when he wrote:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

The whole point is that, because bouldering is relatively (and I stress the word relatively) safe, you can try to make moves that are at the limit of your ability; moves that would not be terribly sensible to even contemplate making on a longer, higher, roped climb. In fact bouldering climbs are so difficult that they are generally described as “problems”; an apt name that also conveys the fact that sometimes you have to use extreme subtlety and finesse as well as brute strength to get up them.

People often literally spend years attempting to complete a problem, particularly if it represents a new level of climbing for them, or if no one else has climbed the line before. Because of this, such unclimbed lines are often called projects. It’s common to ask a fellow climber about how their current project is progressing. This choice of name perhaps begins to give some indication of why I am sharing my experiences in bouldering with you today.

Having said that most boulder problems are short, some hardy souls also embrace high-ball bouldering which, as the name suggests, takes you a lot further off the ground. The following video shows one of the world’s best climbers, Chris Sharma, bouldering in Bishop, California. It segues to him and another top climber, Ethan Pringle, attempting a high-ball problem that weighs in at around 11-12m (35-40 ft).

Note 1: Ethan issues an expletive under his breath towards the end of the clip. I might well have been tempted to do so myself in similar circumstances, but count yourselves warned.

Note 2: As will be apparent if you try to click on this video, it is sadly no longer available, probably to do with copyright issues. Instead I would recommend that you take a look at the bouldering section of Dead Point Magazine’s site.

Copyright notice. This piece is taken from the DVD King Lines which features Chris Sharma climbing all over the world. The copyright holder is BigUp Productions, a world-renowned and award-winning producer of climbing DVDs.
 
 
So what does this have to do with the price of fish?

Please substitute “the price of eggs” if you are in the US

Green Wall Essential (V2). The Buttermilks, Bishop, CA
Green Wall Essential (V2). The Buttermilks, Bishop, CA

I have recently taken to showing the above photograph at the mid-point of my public speaking about business intelligence and change management. Generally I have introduced it with the comment that I wanted to relieve the audience’s boredom by showing them some of my holiday snaps.

As in the above video, this climb is also in Bishop, California, a world-class bouldering venue. The problem is called Green Wall Essential and its grade of difficulty is V2. Without going into enormous detail about the different grading systems for boulder problems, I’ll simply say that V2 is towards the easier end of the spectrum; V15/16 is the hardest that people have climbed.

The reason that I share this image with business/technology audiences is related to the number of times that I tried (and failed) to climb it. Here are some statistics:

  • More than 80 attempts
  • On 4 different days
  • During 2 separate visits to Bishop
  • Spread over 8 months

I mentioned the term project above; Green Wall Essential became my project and my obsession. The above statistics represent more effort than I have ever put into climbing anything else. The quartz monzonite rock is hard and crystalline. It digs into your fingers and peels off your skin leaving the rock stained with your blood (you can see the tape holding the tips of my fingers together in the photograph). Your muscles and tendons ache from trying to push yourself just that little bit harder in order to attain success. You endlessly try different foot holds and body positions. You try to be slow and precise. When that doesn’t work you try to be aggressive and dynamic. When that doesn’t work… and so on and so on.

Now in order to put in that much effort over that much time, and to put up with that much pain and that much failure, you have to really want to do the problem. You have to be persistent, despite set backs. You have to continue to keep a positive mind-set, to believe that you can be successful, even when you have just failed for the 80th time.

In my experience, that is precisely the same mind-set that you need to be successful with major projects, particularly in the business of change management. Hopefully your fingers will bleed less, but it will not be easy. There will be set-backs. Progress may sometimes seem glacially slow, but if you persevere then the goal is worth it.

Sometimes we want to find a magic recipe for success, or – to mix the metaphor – a silver bullet. We want to discover a series of defined steps to take that, if repeated religiously, will guarantee that we get to the desired goal each and every time. That’s why articles entitled “The 5 ways to […]” and “My top tips for […]” are so well-read on the web. My take is that the secret ingredient may be very simple: plain, pig-headed perseverance.

By way of illustrating the benefits of this approach (and closing this article), here I am having achieved my own personal goal on Green Wall Essential… EVENTUALLY!!!

Me a very happy boulderer having completed my project.
Me a very happy boulderer having completed my project.

I wish you luck with your own projects, be these in business intelligence, other areas of IT, change management, or even bouldering. My own “Top tip” – if at first you don’t succeed, persevere.
 


 
If I have whetted anyone’s appetite about bouldering, you can take a look at my partner’s bouldering blog, which contains bouldering photos and videos, together with her musings on what motivates her to climb.
 

20 thoughts on “Perseverance

  1. Thanks Mark,

    I took the liberty of editing your comment as you had a typo in your URL and, having taken a brief look at your site, I thought it was worth correcting the link.

    Peter

  2. Great bit of work, and as a boulderer I am now typing with sweaty hands.

    Keeping going at a project is something we do in our ‘real livers’ but some how it sometimes does not transfer into our business lives, thank you for pointing out the obvious, and I mean that as a complement. It is suprising how we fail sometimes to translate the normal from one area of our lives to where it is equally appropriate in other areas.

    Just a thought on the whole bouldering side of things, did you move on to working other problems/projects to keep your mind fresh for your desired goal while you were at the buttermilks? I am wondering if that is also something that could translate to our business lives??

    Pete

  3. Hi Pete,

    Thanks for the comments. I moved on to Birthday Problem Direct (V3) on the last afternoon I was at the Buttermilks. Had the final (glassy) nubbin in my hand and unaccountably fell off. Thereafter I was too tired to get much further, despite throwing myself rather wearily at it. Haven’t been back to Bishop since graduating to V4 in the UK (aka V3 in Bishop), but would love to do so.

    BTW found this YouTube video of some one else flashing GWE, at least he made it look a little bit tricky!

    Peter

  4. […] I mentioned at the beginning of this article that some of the attendees at the CDO forum hailed from the extractive industries. We had some excellent discussions about how safety has been embedded in the culture of such organisations. But we also spoke about just how long this has taken and how much effort was required to bring about the shift in mindset. As always, changing human behaviour is not a simple or quick thing. If one goal of a CDO is to embed reliance on credible information (including robust statistical models) into an organisation’s DNA, then early progress is not to be anticipated; instead the CDO should be dug in for the long-term and have vast reserves of perseverance. […]

  5. […] I mentioned at the beginning of this article that some of the attendees at the CDO forum hailed from the extractive industries. We had some excellent discussions about how safety has been embedded in the culture of such organisations. But we also spoke about just how long this has taken and how much effort was required to bring about the shift in mindset. As always, changing human behaviour is not a simple or quick thing. If one goal of a CDO is to embed reliance on credible information (including robust statistical models) into an organisation’s DNA, then early progress is not to be anticipated; instead the CDO should be dug in for the long-term and have vast reserves of perseverance. […]

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