All Entrepreneurs Should Rock Climb

I wrote this blog entry for a networking group I co-organize called Startup Climbing. We’re a group of entrepreneurs who get together to climb, network, and learn. The concepts here are applicable to team building and being a strong performer at the office, so I’m reposting it here. Enjoy!

Every Wednesday night I rock climb with a bunch of entrepreneurs. This could be viewed as a coincidental overlap of hobbies and passions, but I’m now convinced that there’s a deeper link between entrepreneurship and climbing.

This connection struck me one night as I tried one route, over and over, for about 30 minutes. I knew what I needed to do, but my arms and legs just wouldn’t quite do it. Then another climber walked over, said hello, and proceeded to blow my mind. Facing backward, he climbed the route in one fell swoop. The wall was partially concave, and he literally kept his back to the wall, faced me, and started ascending.

Hot damn!

This had never even crossed my mind. I gave it a shot and sure enough, on my first attempt I got to the top. This struck me as a perfect example of the somewhat hackneyed phrase that’s so utterly critical to successful startups: thinking outside the box.

People roll their eyes when they hear this phrase, but what a perfect example of the concept: I couldn’t get beyond my narrow view of how to solve the climbing route, when the solution was so achievable with a different approach. I wasn’t even aware there was a box I was thinking inside of! All of a sudden, I saw this profound overlap of skills—those necessary for starting a business and for rock climbing successfully.

Problem Solving

Anyone can tell you that brute strength will rarely get you to the top of a rock wall. You have to weigh various options and frequently be creative in your approach. The entrepreneur’s path is never down a straight road, and while hard work is necessary, it won’t get the job done. Creative problem solving is an essential part of the equation.

Determination

When my wife first joined me climbing one night, she said with exacerbation, “You just keep trying the same route over and over again!” Yes, I do! Because I know I can do it, I just haven’t figured it out yet. When stuck on a problem, an entrepreneur doesn’t say, “Oh I’ll go try a different problem now instead.” No, they keep working with dogged determination until they navigate their way to the top.

Collaboration

One of my favorite parts of climbing is not climbing. We stand at the bottom of routes and analyze the problem together. We try different approaches, and cherry pick techniques from others that are applicable to the problem we’re working on. Entrepreneurs love talking shop and hashing out problems. The best ones watch others in similar situations and borrow the techniques that work best for them.

Pain & Glory

It’s rare I walk away from rock climbing without a few battle wounds. Bloody palms, mangled fingers, and torn rotator cuffs are just a few of the abuses we endure. But I keep coming back for more. Why? The triumph I feel when I conquer a challenging route is no less than euphoric. An entrepreneur works hard, is relentlessly rejected, and endures frequent failures. Yet they get up each morning and do it again.

Why?

Because the triumph experienced with successes is an unparalleled rush that cannot be fulfilled any other way.

I’ve come to view rock climbing as the physical embodiment of the entrepreneur’s path. If you’re looking to sharpen your founder’s skillset, go climb some walls! It’s the best way to train your mind and body to prepare you for the challenges you’ll face at the office.

Jake Koenig
Cofounder, FitYourSpace