In the fifties, the route to Everest was closed by Chinese-controlled Tibet. Nepal allowed one expedition per year. Hillary had been part of a British reconnaissance expedition to the mountain two years earlier in 1951. The 1953 Everest expedition consisted of a huge team of over 400 people, including 362 porters, 20 Sherpa guides and almost 5,000 kilograms of baggage. Expedition leader Hunt named two British mountaineers: Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans as the first assault team. Hillary and Norgay were the second assault team.
Bourdillon and Evans attempted the climb, but due to a failing oxygen system only reached the South Col, about 100 meters below the summit. Then Hillary and Norgay got their chance. A crucial last part of climbing Mount Everest is a 12-meter rock face, which Hillary managed to climb. Today it is known as the Hillary Step. They reached the 8,848-meter high summit, the highest point on Earth, at 11:30 a.m. on May 29, 1953.
Reaching the highest point on Earth is one of the greatest expeditions of mankind. It made Hillary famous. Reading Hillary's View from the Summit, ten management lessons occurred to me.
1. Passion. As a youngster, Hillary was a great dreamer. He read many adventure books and walked many miles with his head in the clouds. He was unaware his passion for adventure would make him, together with Tenzing Norgay, the first man to set foot on the highest point on Earth.
2. Urgency. In 1952 the British heard that in 1954 the French had been given permission to attempt Everest. The British wanted more than anything to be first. The expedition just had to succeed.
3. Teamwork. Getting to the summit of Everest is all about teamwork. As Hillary wrote: “John Hunt and D Namgyal’s lift to the depot on the South-East Ridge; George Low, Alf Gregory and Ang Nyima with their superb support at Camp IX; and the pioneer effort by Charles Evans and Tom Bourdillon to the South Summit. Their contribution had enabled us to make such good progress.”
4. Courage. The Khumbu Icefall is the first major hurdle to cross at Everest. It is vast and unstable, and has claimed more lives than any other part of the South-East approach. The higher you get on Everest the more courage you need. At 7,800 meters Hillary wrote in his diary: “Even wearing all my down clothing I found the icy breath from outside penetrating through my bones. A terrible sense of fear and loneliness dominated my thoughts. What is the sense of this all? I asked myself.”
5. Test. On the 1951 reconnaissance expedition, team members tested oxygen equipment and did research on high-altitude physiology. The results of both studies were important in determining the right approach for Everest in 1953.
6. Initiative. While in India, Hillary read in a newspaper that the British were taking an expedition to the south side of Mount Everest in 1951. He wrote a letter to expedition leader Eric Shipton suggesting that a couple of members of a New Zealand climbing expedition could make a substantial contribution to the team. And so two New Zealanders were invited. If you want something you have to take the initiative.
7. Choices. The British Himalayan Committee replaced the 1951 expedition leader Eric Shipton with Colonel John Hunt, a climber. After eight failed attempts on Everest they needed someone to the top first, before the French would have their chance.
8. Overcome setbacks. Along the way there are always major setbacks. After finding a new route up Everest during the reconnaissance expedition of 1951, the British heard that the Swiss had obtained permission for two attempts on Everest the following year. The only thing the British could do was wait and see if the Swiss would succeed.
9. Competition. Who would be the top teams? And which of them would get the first chance? That was the question. Hunt proposed that Evans and Bourdillon should use the closed-circuit oxygen equipment to reach the South Summit and Norgay and Hillary would push to the top with the open-circuit oxygen. Hillary describes the terms first and second assault team as completely misleading.
10. Luck. With so many possible setbacks you also need some luck. First of all, Hillary, a New Zealander, was lucky to qualify as a British subject and be invited to join the British team. The second bit of luck was in 1952 when the Swiss failed to climb Everest on their two attempts.
In their first attempt, the Swiss climbed Everest just 300 meters below the summit before they had to retreat due to utter exhaustion. In autumn 1952, their second attempt ended just above the South Col due to low temperatures and strong winds, leaving Everest unclimbed.
Hillary was first on the summit of Mount Everest. It changed his life. May his story inspire you to follow your passion and realize your innovation dreams.
About the Author: Gijs van Wulfen is a LinkedIn thought leader on innovation. He is the founder ofthe FORTH innovation method. He just published the bestseller : "The Innovation Expedition, A Visual Toolkit to Start Innovation". Amazon.com orAmazon.co.uk.
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