Lessons from Mt Everest: Alison Levine at TEDxMidwest

Post submitted by Zack Zaban, Search Analyst, Starcom USA

If you told me that I would relate to a woman who climbed Mount Everest twice, I would say that you’re crazy.

Alison Levine

That was until last Thursday night when I heard Alison Levine, Team Captain of the First American Women’s Everest Expedition, talk at TEDxMidwest about her experiences climbing Mount Everest. If you don’t know much about TEDxMidwest, it is an independently organized TED-like event which brings together a remarkable line-up of fascinating and influential speakers. TEDx was being held during Chicago Ideas Week from October 10-16 and I was invited to report from the event as Starcom is a founding sponsor of CIW’s inaugural event.

Anyway, back to TEDx. Levine began her speech with vivid description of how her mountain climbing journey was broken up. Like most people in the room, I thought that individuals on an expedition of this vivacity would make their way up a mountain by hiking and then resting at a location for a few days, only to then continue on.

What I learned, however, is that mountain climbers partake in an action that most people don’t associate with success: they have to turn around.

Levine said that after making her way to each base camp, her team would have to then go back down the mountain and rest at the base camp for a few days before moving up the mountain again to a further distance. On her expedition, Levine didn’t turn around once or twice; instead, she had to turn around for almost 2 months.

Listening to the speech, I began to realize that at Starcom, we often have to turn around and recraft our ideas. In a global marketplace where digital media is both a blessing for its ability to drive innovation and a curse because it creates obsolescence, we have to go back to the drawing board when understanding what truly is a Human Experience for today’s consumers. It’s not fun to almost taste, hear and feel victory, only to have step backwards and not cross the finish line, regardless of what your competency is within the company.

The point that Levine went on to emphasize and drive to the audience of over 1000 thought leaders at the Oriental Theater in Chicago was that it’s not about crossing the finish line at first; what makes a leader and driver of innovation is someone who can adapt to the changes in the climate of a journey.

“Even though you’re going backwards, you’re still making progress,” she said.

That sparked a thought in my mind: we often think about success while we strategize and drive Human Experiences for our clients, but may become frazzled when there’s a bump in the road. Maybe there’s a different way to define and look at success: instead of just analyzing the outcome of a campaign, we also need to look at everything that we’ve overcome and, from this, lessons that we can learn from for future work.

Here are some questions that you can think about and reflect on as you read this post, whether you’re in your cube at work, catching a business flight or are simply browsing through this blog at home (disclaimer: I read ONESMG often when I’m in my pajamas):

· How do you define success for your team?

· How have you overcome challenges in your journey through tactical executions of media plans?

· Are there tools, such as the Space For Ideas technique cards, that you’ve found helpful when dealing with an obstacle at work?

One last thing that I forgot to mention: Alison ventured Everest not once, but twice. If she can endure the harsh, cold climate on that mountain, we have the ability to work through challenges that come our way.

Zack Zaban

Search Analyst
Starcom USA

Zack’s Original Article here