Saturday, August 24, 2013

Destructive Goal Pursuit, by D. Christopher Kayes

D. Christopher Kayes relates the events of the 1996 Everest season to business leadership in Destructive Goal Pursuit: The Mount Everest Disaster. Kayes focuses his text on the problems of goalodicy (a term he created to explain the pursuit of a goal long after evidence shows that it should be abandoned), and their solutions, while presenting the summit climb of Mountain Madness and Adventure Consultants' teams as a running archetypical situation throughout the book. He argues against goal-centered leadership for complex tasks, presenting evidence from both studies and a range of literature that make strong cases against it, and argues for learning-based group dynamics, which generally leads to more positive results. His text is in four sections, with an introduction to the Mount Everest disaster and the concepts he discusses, a discussion of the problems of goalodicy, a section on rethinking organizational goals, and a section on proper organizational governance. His tone is academic, but not difficult to follow, and he writes intelligently without getting overly intellectual.

His Everest material is relatively good. I appreciated that he didn't focus on explaining away what happened on the mountain, but rather used the events as a handy example for his academic conclusions. He quotes a number of books and other sources on the disaster (See Krakauer's Into Thin Air for the most popular account.), and it's clear that he treats events with the proper academic respect. Minor details, such as Reinhold Messner's actually being alone on Everest for his solo climb, at times evade him, but his account is overall trustworthy. I find it interesting that the most successful later commercial operations, such as Brice's Himalayan Experience, took more logistical lessons from the disaster than leadership ones, including radios with every climber, caches of emergency oxygen, and stringing the entire route before any non-Sherpa climbers head to the summit. The true teams on Everest these days, the Sherpa, have actually already tended (there is a bit of a range) to naturally follow many of Kayes' suggestions on good leadership, such as allowing each high-altitude carrier to choose his own physical limit, treating failure to reach a goal as a learning experience rather than a tragedy, and developing tacit coordination within the team.

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