We’ve all heard Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare. The story in which a slow-moving tortoise eventually triumphs over his overly-confident challenger. In 2010 I encountered my own version of the tale while climbing the mighty Mount Kilimanjaro.
One of the most emotionally challenging and physically strenuous things I have ever done, I joined an intrepid team of explorers in a five-day climb through the Whiskey route, a tough path to the top with steep trails and stunning scenery.
The challenge was organised on behalf of Shap Ltd, a local charity for the homeless, and the CEO of Shap, myself, my daughter Molly, and a few of the disadvantaged kids the charity had helped, decided to conquer the dormant volcanic mountain to raise funds for the charity.
For me, one of the most memorable parts of the torturous experience was the skill and professionalism of the wonderful porters, without who we simply wouldn’t have made it.
Getting us up and down the mountain, safely and (relatively) comfortably, these exceptional men carried all our kit, set up our camp, and literally kept us alive. They even managed to carry a makeshift toilet!
I genuinely can’t praise the porters high enough for the hundreds of little things they did for us. The joy that was found in a bowl of warm water and a bar of soap at the end of a hard day’s climb cannot be overestimated, even if it didn’t make that much difference to the level of dirt on our face and hands! What’s more, their can-do attitude, sense of humour and ability to celebrate every success never failed, even in the face of our most disgruntled complaints. A truly humbling example to us all.
Of course, one of the most dangerous parts of the Mount Kilimanjaro experience is battling with altitude sickness. Combining fatigue, stomach illness, and dizziness, if you think of the worse hangover you have ever had, and double it, you’re getting close to how a lack of oxygen at such heights can affect you!
However, despite the desire to get up and down as quickly as possible, the porters regularly made it clear that we needed to go ‘pole, pole’ (slowly, slowly) if we didn’t want to feel ‘poorly, poorly’.
Indeed, sick, filthy, and looking not unlike a zombie from the Walking Dead, our valiant gang soon found out just how valuable this advice was, when, on the fifth day, after climbing through the night, we found ourselves at the bleak, snow-capped summit.
With the sunrise all around us, we thought we’d finally made it, only to discover that to get to the famous Uhuru Peak, a few more steps would be needed.
While, by this point “pole pole” was the only way we could move, it was those that heeded this advice early on that found that extra resolve needed to be successful. And, to help our more competitive team members who had zoomed ahead earlier – and simply had nothing left to give – to reach the top.
This, of course, could be a lesson for business and life in general.
Wouldn’t taking the time to slow down and acclimatise every now and again help us all get a clearer idea of where we need to go? And, in our rush to get ahead, do we actually risk falling short of where we need to be?
While a competitive approach to business isn’t in itself a bad thing, being so blinded by the idea of coming first could overpower your entire operation and jeopardise your overall success.
In today’s business world, with instantaneous communication and ever evolving technology, speed and efficiency are operational requirements and agility and an entrepreneurial spirit help to spark creativity and drive business growth. However, where quality and effectiveness are sacrificed at the expense of speed, perhaps a new approach is required?
And it’s not just in our business lives that it’s good to stop and evaluate how we are doing. Taking the time to recharge the batteries on a personal level helps us all to come back refreshed and ready to succeed. As the iconic Ferris Buller said: “Life moves pretty fast sometimes. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”