Being a boring success

I met Ed Viesturs, heard him speak, and had dinner with him. Ed summited Everest seven times (eleven attempts). He’s an incredible human who climbed the world’s fourteen tallest mountains — all over 8,000 meters, or 26,000 feet. He also created the highest grossing IMAX film in history ($300M). If you’ve read “Into Thin Air”, you know Ed. He also has several great books of his own.

Ed approached his expeditions as an exercise in risk management. He was hyper-focused and passionate about the process of climbing the mountain and getting back down. He learned that his successes were a “boring success” because he was able to consistently perform without tragedy and drama due to his focus on planning, preparation, and an ego-free approach to the expedition. When the conditions did not permit summiting, he didn’t perceive it as a failure. Failure was dying. He says: “it’s not a failure; it’s a non-success.” Where can you apply this concept in your life? Your business? Try it, it will liberate you.

Ed summited K2 with Scott Fisher and climbed with Rob Hall. Ed has accomplished what only five other people in the world have achieved (the fourteen tallest peaks), and he did this without supplemental oxygen! Ed racked up a more consistent record (two-thirds success rate compared to one out five) than the average mountain climber. However, because he has been a “boring success” story free of tragedy and drama, he’s lesser known. He’s what Brad Feld has called a “Silent Killer“.

Would you rather be a “boring success” or a well-known tragedy? I know which I prefer and this informs how I approach business and life.

Ed’s approach reminds me of a core value I hold dear: zanshin. James Clear does a terrific job explaining this Zen Buddhist concept, and I recommend the book “Zen in the Art of Archery“. Also, here’s a great summary of Zanshin: 

Another inspiring statement Ed shared that pierced me to my core was:

“Impossible is good an excuse not to try. Think ‘barely possible’.”

Man, I love this guy!

I want to thank Eric Otterson of Silicon Valley Bank for organizing this event and dinner. Eric might be the most connected, and influential people in the tech industry in San Diego and SoCal. He’s also a great human.

Finally, here are choice quotes from Ed that I jotted down because they were just too good to forget. Ed, forgive me if I’ve inadvertently reworded some of these.

Don’t let ego or sunk costs kill you.

Summiting is only half the journey. #zanshin

People who succeed are those willing to pay the currency of toil.

It’s mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.

Plan. Prepare. Do it well. Do it without ego. It’s what I call boring success.

If you don’t want to try something, impossible is a good excuse. We thought barely impossible.

Once you and your team make a decision, stick with it. Don’t be influenced by others’ group think.

Patience pays off.

Listen to the mountain.

The number one ingredient for success is passion. Because then you’re willing to be patient, persistent, and suffer.

Don’t regret your decisions. You can’t change it; so, there is no point in regretting.

It’s not a failure; it’s a non-success.