5 Business Lessons on the Via Ferrata

Ross family hiking at Nelson Rocks, West VirginiaWhile hanging off the edge of the famous double fins of Nelson Rocks, WVA on Saturday; it occurred to me that there are business lessons to be derived from climbing a mountain. My 14 year old son, and my business partner, Brian, joined me as we took the guided climbing tour and ascended the 1,085 feet of elevation. Italian for “by way of iron”, the Via Ferrata is a permanently installed system of steel rungs and cables that allows people to climb up and over two towering rock fins. The day was filled with family, camaraderie, adventure, sore muscles, and surprisingly enough, business takeaways. Weird, I know.

1. Lean into YOUR adrenaline

In times of struggle, challenge or fear, our nervous systems go into overdrive, flooding our systems with adrenaline. This can be disruptive and make it hard to focus. Knowing ahead of time that this is going to happen allows you to have a strategy to use that energy in an effective way that moves you forward towards your goal.

2. Keep the 75% rule in mind

At three fourths of the way through anything that’s challenging, we typically begin to lose steam and focus. Prior to starting, build a plan for this and establish minimum KPI’s at 75% complete. This will help you stay objective on whether an exit ramp is needed, or this is just the predictable 75% fatigue.

3. Being hypercritical isn’t helpful

Looking over the pictures, it’s difficult to not be self-critical of my sweaty, harnessed, “sausage casing” situation. But, being hyper-critical of myself robs me of the joy from those moments. There is absolutely nothing to gain from it. Being hypercritical of yourself, your teammates or your vendors is equally ruinous in business. I find asking myself these three questions helps me clarify if these thoughts are constructive:

  • What am I feeling and where is my intention?
  • Is there a tactical change that can be made that is within our control?
  • What is the most helpful way this suggestion or piece of feedback can be expressed?

4. Be with positive and capable people

My very athletic son went ahead of us, and scaled the mountain with grace and ease. He was helpful by sharing strategies, footholds and handholds that had worked for him. My very strong business partner followed behind me, always with an encouraging word, or a literal knee to stand on. At one point going so far as being needed to retrieve my shoe when it became wedged and lost in the rockside. I struggled during parts of the climb, and when I began to lose faith in myself, they cheered and encouraged me on re-energizing my faith within myself and my abilities. The same applies in climbing a business goal, we all can lose faith at times, but by having positive and capable people around you keeps the momentum going.

5. Listen to advice, but follow your instinct

I’m 5’1″ and what worked for my 5’7″ son; or the 6ft tall 20 year old guide didn’t always work for me. Quite often I had to find my own way. Luckily, when I found myself resembling an upside down turtle (as Brian described my accidental inversion sandwiched between a ledge and a cliff), I used my skills of yoga and flexibility to squirm my way out of it. Oftentimes in our professional pursuits, advice is great, and to be learned from, but our educated instincts are more powerful. Have faith in your instincts, you’re capable of much more than you think.

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