The words, “the point of no return” most commonly engenders a sense of fear and anxiety for most people, and for good reason. It’s the point at which we can no longer return to the familiar and the comfortable—the point at which we are 100% committed to an unknown future and outcome.
One could say that the risk is calculated, or that we feel it in our bones that it’s going to work, or maybe even that we can afford to fail in this particular instance, and yet, there are many times in life, and in particular in the growth of a company, in which it is necessary that we commit ourselves so fully to a vision that there is just no turning back.
Trolling YouTube recently on a badly needed day of rest I discovered a 60 Minutes piece on Alex Honnold, a man who is arguably the worlds greatest rock climber, known for a style of climbing called “free soloing” in which he scales rock walls thousands of feet high without any ropes.
At 8:59 in this 60 Minutes Piece, an expert narrating his ascent of the 1,600-foot Sentinel in Yosemite National Park conveys, “Right when he pulls into that crack, that’s like the point of no return. It becomes world-class right there.” To which 60 Minute’s Lara Logan replies, “I don’t even like the sound of that, the point of no return.”
Of course, right?
I felt anxiety-ridden watching this video. I knew intellectually that 60 Minutes would not likely air this piece if he had fallen to his death on camera, but I still felt on the edge of my seat with every movement Alex made along his climb.
Full disclosure here: I personally have a great fear of heights and plan never to take up the sport of rock climbing (with or without ropes), but there is something important and metaphorical about these climbs that Alex Honnold, and others like him, take on. They all reach a point of no return in which descending back down the mountain is too difficult and too dangerous, and the only way to go is up.
Business, in the traditional sense, has become more about calculated risk-taking, and less about visionary points of no return. That’s why the entrepreneurial spirit of the small business owner, the solo angle investor, the inventors and innovators with a passion are so important to the evolution of how we do things.
The reluctance for established companies to focus their attention on their culture is precisely about the fear of an unknown future, of having, at some point in time, to commit oneself (or a company) to a point of no return.
When we commit ourselves to evolving culture we will eventually come to know things that are presently unknown to us, and once we know them, we can’t forget what we know and return to the old ways of doing things. So committing to culture means we’ll eventually reach a point of no return in which the only way off the mountain is up, and that’s scary.
And yet … we know from the research and those around us who invest in culture and succeed, that it can’t all be bad or hard or messy … but still there is the resistance.
Watching the nail biting climbs of Alex Honnold is a powerful metaphor of the fear we all have related to moving toward and through points of no return. And yet, moving through these points is where the real growth happens.
The good news is we don’t have to risk our lives like Alex Honnold does to move through our points of no return. We will survive our risks of passion and vision.
Note on the photo: The climber in this photo is not Alex Honnold, and he’s using ropes. We were not able to obtain the rights to one of his photos in time for the publishing of this post, but a Google image search on “Alex Honnold” will quickly reveal some stunning examples of the work he does, or just click to his website.