Hiking down that mountain

One of the most interesting things I’ve done in my life was scale Mount Fuji during my honeymoon. I didn’t find the way up, in the dark, with hundreds of other people to be that painful, and the satisfaction of seeing the sunrise from the top was definitely something to be commended. However, the most difficult part of the climb wasn’t on the way up… It was on the way down.

As a metaphor for business and life, this really does match my experience. Usually the climb up is never as hard as the climb down.

In optimization theory, there is a concept of local optima (both minimums and maximums). A way to visualize maximums is like a mountain range where you are trying to get to the top of the highest mountain, you can reach a peak and look around and realize that you are as high as you can possibly get but still be surrounded by much higher mountains. Frustratingly, determining if you are at a local maximum or a global maximum is actually a quite difficult problem (and there is no fast solution for doing it for any algorithm.)

In many cases, it is actually closer to reaching the top of a mountain and seeing only clouds and fog around you. You think you may be able to glimpse the next mountain over but you aren’t quite sure and, really, won’t be sure until you hike down that mountain and try the next one over.

Business and capitalism (and arguably life) is always an attempt to optimize usages of minimal resources to achieve the biggest outcome. In the course of this, you can sometimes find yourself scaling incredibly difficult mountains thinking, “Hey, if I do this right I’ll make it to the highest one this time.” The unfortunate thing is, when you get there and realize that either you don’t have the resources to go higher (a very common problem) or the top wasn’t has high as you thought it was, you need to climb back down.

Just like Mount Fuji.

Hiking down a mountain is strange, you can see the bottom, you see what you are heading towards, and usually it’s not where you really want to be if you want to be at a maximum. You slip, and sometimes even fall. It hurts… a lot. I have more than a few bruises from falling on the climb down.

You want to get it over with, but the faster you go the more mistakes you make. The slower you go, the more you have to put up with going down when you want to go up.

It sucks… Hard.

But you sometimes need to do that to get out of that local maximum and aim for higher heights.

Sometimes you just need to hike down that mountain you got yourself stuck on. It’s not failure, it’s just part of the journey.


Just a little unintended give

I’ve learned over the past 5 years, business is a funny thing. It’s sort of like piloting a boat without any real certainty of where the final port will end up being. You aim for ports that you know of; either from journeys others have taken, or from rumours of lands unexplored. The part where it ceases to be like piloting a boat is that you aren’t at open sea, you aren’t able to predict the weather, and to be honest, you can’t see the stars nor have GPS.

One person I’ve spoken to said, “it’s like tap-dancing.” You have to keep the beat and just keep on going, light footed, skipping past all of the issues, and not letting a stumble break your step.

That could be true too, but the problem is it’s like tap-dancing, where the music may suddenly turn into a polka or a samba at any time.

What I’m finding is it is, for better or worse, a martial art. You can learn from the masters and work your way up, and yes, some people have a natural knack for it. You start by learning the rules and the strictest throws and punches, being judged exclusively for how exact you perform them. However, as you go up the ranks you learn that being strict and rigid is a darned good way to break your arm. Following the specific steps you’ve learned is a good way to get thrown to the mat pretty quickly. Why? Because those are the specific steps everyone has learned.

What you realize is that it takes a little unintended give, sometimes.

Some people call it pivoting, but to me that implies a bit too much forethought. The decisions you make are too quick and too responsive to be simply a pivot. Spending a lot of time on a decision is a good way to waste money or, to use the martial arts analogy, quickly be thrown out of the ring.

We’ve probably all heard the “Kung Fu” slogan that you want to be like a reed, able to bend in the wind, not a stick which snaps. We also probably think we’ve taken it to heart in various areas of our lives. Probably true for the ones you can think of. Similarly. most people forget that a reed also had some rigidity, otherwise it cannot stand at all.

It’s not being a wet spaghetti, it’s a little unintended give.

Sometimes it sucks, but at the end of the day, it seems to be the best way to survive, grow and move forward.

A broken reed dies in the pond.


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