6 Business Lessons I’ve Learned From Climbing

Aaron Hoos

Recently I’ve started learning how to Top Rope Climb! That’s a picture of me (above) at the local climbing center after a couple hours of climbing. That’s my exhausted face! haha

Climbing has always been an interest. Even as a kid I would climb whatever I could; heights never really bothered me.

When I moved to a different city in 2016, I found myself with a ton of free time and looking for an active hobby to pursue… and especially after I rappelled down a 22 storey building (using the same “belaying” method that climbers use to climb)… I decided that I wanted to take up Top Rope Climbing.

As luck would have it, a new climbing center opened in town so I went for a course and have returned to the center to climb now and then. I love it! I love the challenge and the workout.

Basically, you are tied to a rope to protect you from falling and then you climb a vertical surface that has holds for your hands and your feet. The size of holds, and their distance, as well as the angle of the wall, will all determine the difficulty of the climb.

As I climb, I’ve realized that there are a few business lessons to be learned. These are reinforced every time I climb…

Lesson #1

Before you climb, you make the best guess of what your route will be and how you’ll move from one hold to another. But once you’re on that vertical face, you discover what it’s really like and you make changes on the fly based on your up-close inspection of each hold.

The business lesson: Too many entrepreneurs never get off the ground. Many are overwhelmed by all the things you need to do to run a business, and A LOT of aspiring entrepreneurs think they need to have a perfect fool-proof plan before starting. That’s not true. Just like in climbing, you pick a path and make a best guess about how you’ll proceed, and then you get started… with the realization that it’s just a best guess before you start; you need the willingness to make changes as you go.

Lesson #2

When climbing, you’re tied off carefully and you climb with the confidence that if you fall there’s a system of ropes (and someone you’re tied to) to help you have a safe, controlled descent.

The business lesson: Very few businesses succeed right out of the gate. The mark of a successful entrepreneur is not always income and profit from day one. Rather, the mark of a successful entrepreneur is consistent progress in the face of failure. We live in a world where it is SO SIMPLE to start a business. So if one business fails, you just dust yourself off and start another. It’s not always easy but it is often simple. I love the idea that business growth is about getting to failure (and through failure) as rapidly as possible.

Lesson #3

Climbing is problem-solving. When you move from one hold to the next, you’re basically problem solving on the fly. I think that’s what I find so exhausting about it: you’re not just working out your body but you’re constantly working your mind, too: you reach a hold and have to decide “how do I hold it?” and “if I grab this one, what’s the move after that?” You’re trying to think a couple of moves ahead.

The business lesson: Every moment in business is problem solving. They aren’t always catastrophic problems but every moment presents a problem and/or an opportunity that you have to assess and decide and take action on. Do you pursue this client or that one? How do you spend your time? Where do you reinvest your money? How can you refine your brand? Is there a better way of doing something? There are a million moments like this in every business and your job as a business owner is to ask the question and problem-solve the best answer you can as you go.

Lesson #4

Successful climbing involves other people. Yes, you are tied to a belayer and that ensures your safety if you fall. But there’s another person who is invaluable when climbing (especially for a newcomer to the sport, like I am) and it’s easy to overlook these people—other people who climb a climb before you do. Watching them can help you know how to make the same climb.

The business lesson: Ironically, it seems that many aspiring entrepreneurs think they have to have it all figured out ahead of time before they even take the first step in their business; yet, so few will look to mentors and other people who are climbing the same climb ahead of them to learn from them. If you want to build a successful business, choose the type of business you want to build and then find other people who are doing it already and learn from them. Entrepreneurship is not about TOTAL reinvention of the wheel. Rather, it’s about finding other people who are doing it right and modeling their success with your own twist.

Lesson #5

When climbing, there are many different climbs you can do. There are really simple ones where all the holds are straightforward and easy to grip… but the climbs increase in difficulty to more challenging climbs where the holds are quite small and you have pinch them rather than grip, or perhaps the surface isn’t vertical but it’s tilted backwards. You don’t start climbing at the hardest climbs; you start at the simple ones and you perfect your skill on those before moving to the advanced ones.

The business lesson: It’s the same as in business. Even companies that started in someone’s garage and grew into big multi-national corporations didn’t go from one to the other overnight. They started with one customer and a simple product… then a dozen customers and a slightly more complex product… then a hundred customers and a slightly more complex product… etc. Start your business simply and grow organically, working from simple to complex and not trying to skip any steps along the way.

Lesson #6

I’m in pretty good shape but I find climbing to be exhausting. It’s a full body workout using muscles I don’t normally use, and brainpower too! I’ve learned from experience that you can climb for fun but as soon as it starts to hurt, you should stop. But, just like any other exercise, that “pain point” that you hit when climbing can take longer and longer to get to because your muscles develop for the workload. It may have taken an hour for my body to hurt from the exertion the first time, then an hour and a half, then two hours, and so on.

The business lesson: This is a lesson I’m relearning right now in my business! When you build your business you need to stretch yourself (and your business) until there’s pain (maybe until you stretch your budget too much or you push yourself too far or you end up breaking your system or even pissing off a customer) and then you stop, reassess, fix things, take a break, and start over. Each time you stretch to the pain point and then fix it, that pain point becomes farther and farther out.

I’m enjoying my new hobby… and I love seeing the connections between climbing and business! I hope you’ve found these lessons to be useful reminders for you, too!