Ed took a hard look. On the West Ridge of Mount Everest, he was only 300 vertical feet below the summit. But that could take a couple of hours without supplemental oxygen. And the weather was worsening, a light snow beginning to fall. Eric was right; the team could probably get to the top, but coming down would be epic at best, suicidal at worst. The team turned and started down towards base camp. Ed would think about those last 300 feet every day for the next three years.
In high altitude mountaineering, there’s little fame in turning back short of the summit. We like our outdoor adventurers to overcome any obstacle to reach the world’s peaks in epic fashion, regardless of the odds. Like a lot of events in life, we want the outcome and reward the outcome. To fully appreciate and improve outcomes, however, we should consider the underlying process.
Effort versus Achievement
In grad school, one of the more interesting class discussions focused on whether to reward effort or achievement. The final consensus was achievement as it’s more measurable and outcome-focused. I hear the same debate frequently during performance reviews (e.g., “they tried really hard”), and while it’s worthwhile to consider the factors that led to achievement, final evaluation is typically derived through achievement.
Process versus Outcome
A more generic way to look at effort versus achievement is process versus outcomes (i.e., effort being one of the elements of process, and outcomes being broader than achievement). We look at outcomes to evaluate overall performance, but we should look at the process to improve performance. Understanding the process of climbing, painting, hitting, betting will make a better climber, artist, baseball player, gambler, etc. Ask the question: does your performance process produce desired outcomes in an effective, efficient and controlled way?
“Even while I’m going up an 8,000er, everything in my planning is calculated toward getting back down. You can’t arrive on a summit and then make a plan for getting down. By then it may be too late.” -Ed Viesturs
There is usually noise in the performance environment. Most performance is the result of an exponential number of factors, many outside the individual’s control. Success may be heavily influenced by the environment and resource availability at a moment in time. However, in a world where successful outcomes are celebrated, don’t lose sight of the process.
Ed Viesturs returned to Everest and completed the ascent to the summit three years later. He went on to climb (and safely descend) Mount Everest six more times. He is the first American to have climbed all fourteen of the world’s 8000 meter mountain peaks, and the fifth person to do so without using supplemental oxygen. The introductory paragraph is summarized from his book, No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World’s 14 Highest Peaks.