“It’s unclimbable.” After months of preparation, weeks of travel and days sitting in a tent trying to acclimatize to the thin air, my mind — my fears — drifted to how Sir Edmund Percival Hillary had famously described the peak we were trying to climb.
We were on the final push to scale Ama Dablam, which is Nepalise for “Mother’s Necklace.” Its peak — 6,812 meters or 22,349 feet — descends on two sides into sheer faces that look like a mother’s arms open to hug her child.
Blocking our path was the “grey tower,” a jumble of rock, ice and 70-degree pitches that towers 6,300 meters (about 20,000 feet) above sea level. It was the mountain’s last major technical challenge. A single misstep could be bad news for me and my partner.But I had trained, and my training spoke to me. It told me that the summit would never come all at once. That was impossible. What was possible, maybe, was another step. A single step up and forward. Careful, precise movements: gently placing my ice axe in flaky, soft afternoon snow, trying to maintain balance with a crampon tip dug into a crack in the ice-covered granite; setting a piece of gear safely … and clipping my rope in to protect me and my partner in case of emergency. The time I had invested in my core strategy was working: I had confidence in my preparedness, relying on years of physical training, weeks of gear preparation and past experience on other mountains. Climbing on to the mushroom ridge where we would spend the night, I was awe-struck. The summit was in sight. We would make it.
And so it is in digital transformation.
First, the vision. Next, the preparation. And then all the carefully calculated steps that take you there. Each move takes us farther into the unknown, where we encounter unpredictable and disruptive forces around us. Some threaten to harm us, to block our paths. Some cause us to get “stuck” in old ways of thinking (and doing)… or worse, abandon a vision altogether. But the winners move forward, and in doing so, they are perpetually and concurrently focused on doing what it takes to adapt their current business while creating new paths, techniques, models for new businesses … or, as we refer to it here at Accenture, “leading in the new.”
That is not marketing speak. “Leading in the new” means a lot to us. In climbing, it’s about finding safe ways to try out new techniques. In the business world, it is a mentality — and a methodology — that enables us to help companies learn to identify the new and to rotate to it, embracing flexibility with the daring of a startup but without compromising the core business. Knowing when to rotate from your core business to the new, in fact, is also a lot like watching the weather when you’re planning an attempt on a peak. A disruption, if recognized, can be fuel. It can fuel fear — the kind mountain climbers experience that inspires them to overcome extreme, life-threatening forces and push further. It can also fuel innovation — inspiring you to think differently and then perfectly time a pivot to the “new.” The kind that will put you on the top of the world.
Never really finished
As we climbed the last meters, we were rewarded with a view of Mount Everest across the Khumbu valley. Looking out over the sweeping valley and massive flanks of Everest, Nuptse and Lohtse, I knew that while I had faced and achieved much, there was much still to do — as an alpinist and as a business person. With that, I silently thanked the Mother for this moment of clarity as I turned to head back down into her cradling arms.