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Not having seen the new movie, this post is not a movie review. I have seen at least three versions of this story of death at altitude and I can say that the story is dramatic even before Hollywood works its magic. That drama has lessons for those of us not climbing to the highest point on Earth.

My favourite version of the story is Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air. It is written well, by somebody who knows about mountain climbing and who knew many of the personalities. (Though there appears to be a debate about the roles and motives of the main players.)

One lesson jumped out at me: you need to be determined enough (i.e. slightly crazy) to walk into situations which can kill you. At the same time, you need to be sensible enough to know when today is not going to be the day that you succeed.

This perspective applies directly, but less dramatically, to the business of real estate. In real estate, weather can be an obstacle but many others create bigger headaches for anybody who thinks that they have a great idea: government(s!), banks, NIMBYists, co-workers, … So, it requires a strong will to push through all of them to accomplish something. The one obstacle that mountain climbing and real estate share is the constant struggle against gravity.

In this environment, it is easy to develop a “win at all costs” mentality. It sounds like what they should teach in the army or in business school. They don’t and shouldn’t.

In business school, an “obvious” lesson which needs to be taught repeatedly is that “profit equals total revenue minus total cost”. It is easy to achieve a revenue target but, if doing so requires spending a huge amount then achieving the target should not count as a success. In the army, a win at all costs mentality produces many deaths.

It is also true that soldiers are taught something more, as evidenced by the award given to Meagan McGrath in 2007 for stopping to help. Mountain climbing is a life and death situation. Because of this, ethical considerations should not be forgotten, yet there are many stories of people who died but could have been saved if people were not so focused.

Business is not a life or death situation. Regardless of the business plan, awareness reveals when something is not right and the plan deserves to be changed.

This perspective applies both to a narrow-minded developer and to a narrow-minded opponent. I understand that it can be tiresome to listen to one more old man talking about how building an ugly condo in this location will “destroy civilization as we know it”. The old man also needs to understand there are many values to be considered, seriously. There are legal procedures to getting a project approved and which aim at finding a solution which is for the many people involved.  With luck, those procedures do not involve leaving somebody to die on the way to the summit.

Real estate is a long lived asset which affects many people. It is too important to leave to people who focus narrowly.