Today we continue with Rich’s story showing the importance of continually assessing your environment, especially in small buiness. As you recall, he was climbing the Pfeifferhorn and was approaching the summit when he realized he hadn’t been paying attention to the conditions on the mountain.

I had been so engrossed in reaching the objective that I had not taken the time to dig and block the snow. We had crossed the last 200 feet of snow, without once testing it. The composition of our foundation had slowly grown snowier, and I had not noticed the change.

Scraping away about eight inches of powder, I blocked out a 12-inch square. Underneath the powder I discovered a fragile shell crust, only four inches deep, hiding nothing but whipped cream.

There, leaning into the Pfeifferhorn, I realized that I had placed my brother-in-law and myself in serious peril. I had overlooked basic snow climbing principles, and, as a result, jeopardized not just the climb, but our lives and my wife’s safety. Here, one misstep would bring down an avalanche, careening along the ridge and over the 1,500-foot free-fall. Looking toward my brother-in-law, I saw the mirrored realization.

“We’re so close.”

He nodded. “How thick is the crust?”

I looked back to the crown. “About four inches. We could likely summit this baby without much danger. Getting down, though, without triggering a slide—I’m not willing to chance it.”

My brother-in-law crouched to give himself a look at the snow. “Let’s call it off.” He stood up. “It’s too unstable. If we start sliding, we have no hope of surviving the fall.”

I looked back to the crown. “As much as I hate to admit it, it’s the right call.” We hiked back across the ridge and joined my wife for the descent.

I was fortunate that day. I caught my mistake before anything fatal happened. But you understand: you must continually assess your environment. You must think things through. Every upward step and every backward slide has to figure into your view of the environment. You can’t overlook the key principles just because you understand them; you must apply those principles if they are to provide physical or financial safety. High-altitude climbers, in business and life, must be confident in their ability to reach the summit; however, that confidence cannot be allowed to mask the need for vigilance.

Recent real estate market trends are a perfect example of a continually changing environment. While I, my wife, and my brother-in-law all got off the Pfeifferhorn in safety, I have had several close friends who haven’t been quite so lucky with their figurative Pfeifferhorns. They were making a killing doing high-end, speculative developments and hard-money lending, perfect techniques for a bullish market. But just like I failed to assess the changing snow conditions on the mountain, they got caught in their thrust toward the summit and jeopardized their financial footing. They lost their monetary safety as millions of dollars spiraled off the edge and into the abyss.

Look along your own Knife’s Edge. Spectacular view, isn’t it? Not a cow within miles. But you’ll only get there with thoughtful consideration and planning. Keep your eyes peeled and your senses sharp, and don’t let the eye-on-the-prize mentality blind you to what else surrounds you. This is your honest, necessary awareness of the environment—the ever-changing landscape of business and of life.

Porter’s Points – Continually Assess Your Environment

• Take time to look around. It’s great to be able to focus on your goal, but even if the path to success seems obvious, it’s a path through a busy business environment. Don’t let yourself get blindsided by easily avoidable obstacles.
• Tracking cash flow, keeping up on accounts receivable, and diversifying and expanding your client and supplier bases does you no good if it’s a one-off effort. Each of these is impacted by outside forces, and you need to keep an eye on the trends.
• If you find yourself on a ledge with only four inches between you and oblivion, take time to back off and try again. Find a better way out, work around the obstacles inhibiting your success.

And with that we finish Chapter 8: Avoiding Cow Pies. Next week we’ll begin Chapter 9: I Never Want to be a Doctor (And Certainly Not a Lawyer!).