Conquering Heights: Translating Mountaineering Success into Business Triumphs

Conquering Heights: Translating Mountaineering Success into Business Triumphs
Photo Courtesy: Steven Pivnik

It’s well known in the business world that growth is critical for success. What is less well known, however, is the fact that growing too fast is dangerous.

“Often, entrepreneurs feel the need to be incredibly disruptive and do it by moving as fast as possible,” says peak performance business coach Steven Pivnik. “They forget what got them there and sacrificed quality for speed. This becomes a dangerous game that results in mistakes at best and complete meltdown at worst.”

Pivnik has a wealth of experience in the business world. His previous tech company, Binary Tree, where he served as CEO, was named to the Inc5000 list of fastest-growing companies for seven years in a row. Under Pivnik’s leadership, the company grew to more than 200 employees located across 12 countries before successfully exiting to a $4 billion competitor. 

However, much of Pivnik’s wisdom about the value of a sensible pace was gained outside of the business arena as he participated in mountaineering. Pivnik has successfully scaled Aconcagua, the highest peak on the continent of South America, as well as Kilimanjaro, the highest in Africa. He also made two attempts at Alaska’s Denali — the highest peak in North America — a challenge he describes as “unfinished business.”

Pivnik’s book “Built to Finish” shares a wealth of wisdom for business leaders on conquering new heights, much of which Pivnik translates from lessons learned while scaling mountains. He shares similar business insights during his inspirational and motivational keynotes, which have helped business leaders around the world with executive mindset development.

Pace yourself in business and life

One of the key business messages Pivnik shares is that the mountain dictates the pace.

“Pace is not a speed,” Pivnik writes in the book. “Rather, it’s a situational response to the circumstances you face.”

During his time as CEO of Binary Tree, Pivnik learned achieving a winning pace requires establishing a good deal of balance. Businesses are naturally eager to get a new product quickly to market, but the proper pace must be slow enough to let them address the critical issues surrounding the rollout.

“The mountain forces pace,” Pivnik shares. “It requires you to be aware of how slow or fast you are moving. In life, that is rarely true. Few elements cause such an awareness. In business, it’s so easy to move fast — cash and your burn rate permitting, of course. Hardly any barriers exist to stop you, but when mistakes creep in, things eventually fall apart and you are left trying to pick up the pieces.”

Pivnik goes on to explain that our current culture encourages us to put our heads down and move as fast as we can in both our personal and professional lives. He warns that plowing ahead is rarely effective for long-term success.

“With each step comes a new risk, a small accomplishment, and an occasion to proceed or turn around,” Pivnik points out. “This is where pace comes in. It’s not a race to the top but a journey where the destination is simply reaching the summit. Move too fast, and your body will give up on you. Move too slowly, and you will run out of time and supplies, and you will never make it. That’s why you must maintain a moderate pace.”

Learn to see failure as a natural part of trying

“Failure is a part of living,” Pivnik writes. “How you bounce back from failure is the most important thing.”

Pivnik’s two attempts to scale Denali are highlighted in his book as experiences that taught him to value failure. The first time, local weather kept Pivnik and his team from pushing beyond the 14,000-foot camp. The second time, Pivnik’s guide determined moving past the 17,000-foot camp had the potential to be hazardous to his health.

In both cases, Pivnik descended the mountain with a DNF, which in the world of endurance sports stands for “Did Not Finish.” While the DNF was disappointing, he came to realize through the experience that failures — whether in mountaineering or business — have value.

“Failure may not always build character, but it certainly builds knowledge,” Pivnik shares. “The more familiar you become with any experience, the better you will be at managing it when it occurs again. Sometimes, small and repeated failures build your muscles to the extent that you can weather a much larger challenge or obstacle. In knowing that you can respond, you are armed with the ability to see clearly and navigate the difficult road ahead.”

Choose to create positive environments

One of Pivnik’s most transformative messages for business leaders is that your circumstances, good or bad, begin and end with you. He offers three core concepts that can help them to achieve their goals: personal discipline, focus, and awareness. By committing to cultivating those qualities, entrepreneurs can gain the strength needed to reach new heights.

“These three core concepts shape our ability to recognize our current status, determine what serves us best, and decide what we might otherwise want to change,” Pivnik says. “The more we dig into these thoughts and feelings, the better positioned we will be to reach our goals and dreams.”

Published by: Martin De Juan


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