Hiking down that mountain

One of the most interesting things I’ve done in my life was scale Mount Fuji during my honeymoon. I didn’t find the way up, in the dark, with hundreds of other people to be that painful, and the satisfaction of seeing the sunrise from the top was definitely something to be commended. However, the most difficult part of the climb wasn’t on the way up… It was on the way down.

As a metaphor for business and life, this really does match my experience. Usually the climb up is never as hard as the climb down.

In optimization theory, there is a concept of local optima (both minimums and maximums). A way to visualize maximums is like a mountain range where you are trying to get to the top of the highest mountain, you can reach a peak and look around and realize that you are as high as you can possibly get but still be surrounded by much higher mountains. Frustratingly, determining if you are at a local maximum or a global maximum is actually a quite difficult problem (and there is no fast solution for doing it for any algorithm.)

In many cases, it is actually closer to reaching the top of a mountain and seeing only clouds and fog around you. You think you may be able to glimpse the next mountain over but you aren’t quite sure and, really, won’t be sure until you hike down that mountain and try the next one over.

Business and capitalism (and arguably life) is always an attempt to optimize usages of minimal resources to achieve the biggest outcome. In the course of this, you can sometimes find yourself scaling incredibly difficult mountains thinking, “Hey, if I do this right I’ll make it to the highest one this time.” The unfortunate thing is, when you get there and realize that either you don’t have the resources to go higher (a very common problem) or the top wasn’t has high as you thought it was, you need to climb back down.

Just like Mount Fuji.

Hiking down a mountain is strange, you can see the bottom, you see what you are heading towards, and usually it’s not where you really want to be if you want to be at a maximum. You slip, and sometimes even fall. It hurts… a lot. I have more than a few bruises from falling on the climb down.

You want to get it over with, but the faster you go the more mistakes you make. The slower you go, the more you have to put up with going down when you want to go up.

It sucks… Hard.

But you sometimes need to do that to get out of that local maximum and aim for higher heights.

Sometimes you just need to hike down that mountain you got yourself stuck on. It’s not failure, it’s just part of the journey.

KJR

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2 thoughts on “Hiking down that mountain

  1. Marc R-N says:

    Go down the Gotemba trail next time, it’s “soft” volcanic ash and much easier on the knees (It would be hell to climb up though). Or, to build on your metaphor, the amount of work required is path dependent.

    • I’m not sure if we did that route or not. Going down the route we did do (lots of switchbacks) was hellish simply because the rock was too soft and you slid and fell a lot.

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