Avoiding the Complacency Trap
John Amatt has been called has been called “The World’s Best Adventure Speaker.” The veteran mountain climber is Founder & President of One Step Beyond WorldWide, an innovative educational and motivational consultancy. John’s mission is to encourage people to push beyond their self-imposed limitations, to be more personally accountable for the results of their own actions, and to embrace effective teamwork by valuing the contribution of others.
SPEAKING.COM: How have your experiences in the mountains changed your life?
AMATT: As a child I was very shy and insecure. I wanted to be successful, but lacked the confidence to achieve. I can still recall an early family holiday when I was perhaps 8 years old. We were driving in the family car and had become lost so my dad told me to get out and ask a stranger for directions back to our hotel. I was so scared of speaking to that one stranger that I steadfastly refused to get out of the car. It’s interesting to speculate on the fact that I now make my living speaking to strangers!
When I discovered climbing in my early teens, I found something I was good at. The growing recognition I received from my peers drove me to climb harder and higher mountains. I discovered that nothing was impossible if I could find the courage to try, to overcome the anxiety of moving forward into the unknown and launch the attempt.
My greatest climbing achievement occurred at the age of 20 when I became one of the first ever climbers to conquer the 5,000-foot-tall “Vertical Mile” Troll Wall in Norway. Troll Wall’s rock face is the highest and most vertical in Europe and almost twice the height of the iconic El Capitan in California’s Yosemite Valley. If you drop a stone from the summit it touches nothing else before hitting the valley floor one vertical mile below.
At the time, the expert climbers said it was impossible to make this ascent, but three companions and I decided to try together. It took 10 days of extreme effort and we slept on ledges no more than a foot wide.
Afterwards, I said to myself: “If I can do that, I can do anything”. I discovered that in every challenging situation, I must overcome my fears and commit to the effort, no matter what level of uncertainty it might involve.
SPEAKING.COM: What was the most important lesson that you learned from that achievement?
AMATT: That complacency is the biggest danger in life! Human beings are creatures of habit. By nature, we seek out the comfort of the known world, repeating things over and over without asking the question “WHY?”
I don’t believe that taking risks is nearly as dangerous as complacency, because when you’re trying something new, you’re anxious and paying attention, fully aware of what’s going on. The biggest danger is when you’re not paying attention and have become complacent. That’s when accidents can occur and mistakes can be made.
When we began the ten-day effort to climb the Troll Wall, we all feared the unknown challenges ahead, so we were highly focused. After all, we’d just come from the horizontal world of the valley where we could walk around with our hands in our pockets. Now we were hanging hundreds of feet in the air by our fingers and toes. We were literally paying attention to every move we made; however as we climbed higher, we became more comfortable with this vertical world and less focused on the task at hand.
By the tenth day, when we could throw a rock and watch it spiral down through the 5,000 feet of thin air beneath us, I realized that we were in danger of falling into what I call “The Trap of Complacency” because we had become so familiar with the vertical world that we were not paying complete attention to the task.
SPEAKING.COM: How did this realization translate into your success on Everest many years later?
AMATT: The two accidents, which resulted in four deaths early in our Everest climb, were the direct result of us falling into “The Trap of Complacency”. We had spent five years planning our expedition, developing a plan in the comfort of our homes that was based upon a series of assumptions of what we could expect on a mountain half the world away. When we got to the mountain, we applied the plan, without examining whether or not those assumptions were correct.
In retrospect, I think we were too focused on the summit, anticipating that our success would come through ‘tunnel vision’, when we should have had ‘peripheral vision’; we needed to look around ourselves and adapt our strategies to the changing environment on the mountain every day. The accidents forced us to amend our approach and it was that adaptation that eventually led to success.
Additionally it’s vital that you clearly establish your expectations as a member of a team. Not everyone can reach the summit of Everest or become the CEO of a multinational corporation, but we can draw great pride from being part of a successful team. I am unusual amongst Everest speakers in that I did not reach the summit during our expedition. Mine is a story of leadership, where my goal was to get the first Canadian climber to the top of the world so I was totally fulfilled when that happened, as I had set my expectations accordingly.
SPEAKING.COM: How do you define “Adventure”?
AMATT: An adventure is a journey into the unknown, but it’s not limited to hanging from a mountain side on a rope. True adventure is an ATTITUDE that we must apply to the day-to-day obstacles of life: facing new challenges, seizing new opportunities, testing our resources against the unknown and discovering our unique potential in the process.
In truth, our modern civilization is built on the backs of our adventurous predecessors: the early settlers, pioneers and immigrants who had the courage to meet challenges in the new world. These people endured adversities and learned from their setbacks; they worked together as teams to achieve difficult goals and adapt to uncertain opportunities. In the process, they laid the foundation for the world that we all take so much for granted today.
Therefore, if we are going to build on their achievements and embrace the opportunities of tomorrow, we must learn from our past and apply this modern spirit of adventure to our future.
To bring John Amatt to your organization to help inspire and motivate your team, please contact Michael Frick at: Mike@Speaking.com.
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