What Strategy Can Teach Us About the High Ground

Recently, my wife and I took a vacation to Zion’s National Park, a park located in Southern, Utah, USA.  We  decided to attempt the Angels Landing hike (also known as the Temple of Aeolus).  While the hike is not technically difficult, it is a very exposed hike along a narrow sandstone ridge which offers an indescribable view from the high ground.  In this case, the high ground is approximately 1,200-1,500 feet above the valley floor and has sheer cliffs on each side.  The trail head offers plenty of opportunities to gather strategic intelligence, as there are multiple warnings of what you might encounter or expect.

After 90 minutes of hiking, you step out onto a sandstone ridge that is reminiscent of a dorsal fin of a shark.  The last half mile/kilometer is fully exposed on both sides.  As we approached the very last incline before reaching the “landing” we began to encounter patches of snow and ice, increasing the level of danger we were in.

Another couple had stopped for a rest in this very last section prior to reaching the summit.  They were enjoying their lunch and were planning to head back down the trail.  After a short discussion we learned they were not continuing on due to the ice and their concern about safety.  My wife studied the icy section and said, “I only see about 10-feet of ice and beyond that it looks ice free, I think we can do it.”  I suggested that although we were close, it was better to be safe than sorry.  There have been six deaths on the Angels Landing hike over the years and the trail head warns of the varying conditions.  While this icy section looked reasonably feasible to climb up, we could not see the perspective of coming back down this section.  Coming down can often be more challenging in extreme terrain and ice.  As disappointment set in at being only a few-hundred yards from the summit, I suggested to my wife that we gather some strategic intelligence by waiting 15-20 minutes to see if anyone was coming down the summit who we could ask about the conditions up top.  She smiled and chuckled at my attempt to always bring leadership and management skills into our daily life, but agreed that waiting for more information was a good idea.   This would also give us a chance to relax, enjoy the scenery, and if anyone was returning from up higher, decide whether we want to make the final climb.  At the very least, another hiker could offer us a different perspective.

Sure enough, about 15 minutes later, two people appeared on the ledge and began hiking down.  As they reached the icy section, we (and the couple that had stopped for lunch) watched as they navigated the icy section.  Once past it, we enthusiastically asked about the conditions and gathered some intelligence to determine whether or not we would continue, and if we chose to, how we might approach the icy section.  The few tips and learning points the other hikers offered helped us in making our strategic choice to weigh the risks and ultimately safely navigate the ice.

On our hike down, my wife and I chatted casually about intelligent strategy and the good idea I had to wait until we had more information.  My wife quickly pointed out that with strategy in business, at times, it may not be wise to wait.  Leading the pack may be risky, but may also lead to great rewards.  I agree completely and responded that strategy is all about gathering intelligence, assimilating the information, and making smart choices.  Deciding what to do is just as important as deciding what not to do.  Intelligent strategy is about adapting to the environment that you operate within to ensure you are not just alive, but that you thrive in business or in life.

Pictures Courtesy Alex Proimos

what strategy can teach us about the high ground

strategy and high ground 2

More Pictures to Follow.

Angels Landing - The High Ground Advantage

Angels Landing - The Strategic Edge

Angles Landing - The Last Approach

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About the Author

Chris Stowell

Christopher Stowell is currently serving as CMOE’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing where he works with multi-national organization to develop their people. His special interests lie in coaching teamwork, strategy, e-learning, and assessment design, and delivery. Chris has a special talent in helping companies assess their organizational effectiveness and identifying key issues and opportunities in order to advance their performance and achieve long term results. Additionally, he has extensive experience in designing, coordinating, and facilitating customized adventure based experiential training events for high performance teams.