The Fast and Light Organisation by Patrick Hollingworth.

A mountaineer explains what modern alpinists have to teach business leaders.

The Light and Fast Organisation: A New Way of Dealing with Uncertainty

by Patrick Hollingworth (Wiley, $29.95)

Pioneering and enterprise seem to have gone hand-in-hand since time immemorial. From the raiding parties of Vikings to the Dutch East India Company and even realised in the technologies developed by NASA in sending man beyond Earth’s atmosphere, the biggest risks are historically taken in a bid to reach very large rewards.

We see this trend continue today at even the most grassroots levels, with an increasing number of executives participating in adventure racing, or fundraising for mountain climbing expeditions. Business courses continue to offer case studies in leadership based on the exploits of explorers – and their failures.

A business consultant and passionate mountaineer, Patrick Hollingworth has climbed multiple peaks over 8000 metres including Everest, and naturally sees plenty of parallels between adventure and business upon which to draw inspiration from. However, after a number of years both in consulting and in running his own Nepal-based climbing company, Himalayan Ascent, he realised that a general trend in mountaineering had even more practical value when translated for business.

After eight weeks of distilling his thoughts, Hollingworth produced The Light and Fast Organisation: A New Way of Dealing with Uncertainty. Aimed at providing a methodology for businesses facing increasing instability, Hollingworth describes both a brief history of mountaineering, but also shows how the currently accepted ‘alpine style’ of mountain climbing can be applied to organisational strategy. In a sense, the book modernises the relationship between adventure and business in a way that was waiting to be described.

Recently, Wild found the time to interview Hollingworth in order to learn a little more about him and how he came to produce The Light and Fast Organisation.

Patrick, how did you get into mountaineering and the outdoors?

My mum and dad had a real love of the outdoors, and passed it on to all of their kids. Camping holidays were pretty standard, and it was very rare for us to spend a school holiday fortnight without at least one trip or adventure into the countryside. After a family walking holiday to New Zealand’s South Island, I was hooked.

Patrick Hollingworth.

Hollingworth presents his ideas for various audiences, including at a TEDx event.

What are your business credentials? Where have you worked and how did your adventurous activities fit into your busy schedule?

At university I studied geography, anthropology and psychology, and I worked for a large international consulting firm for over a decade, project managing the construction of large coastal infrastructure projects, mostly in Australia. Trying to fit in long, multi-month expeditions into my career wasn’t easy. For about ten years or so, I never really took holidays. After all, my work includes an annual expedition in the Himalayas!

How did this concept in drawing parallels between business and mountaineering come about? How long have you been developing it?

I left the employee game about five years ago, and started consulting to clients through my own practice. Knowing the worlds of both organisations and mountaineering, it was a pretty natural fit to look at the relationship between the two. I’d always known the personal benefits for pushing yourself in the natural environment, but I felt that the potential learnings had always been treated pretty superficially, and I found that frustrating, and somewhat lazy. As I started to see more and more of the larger, traditional organisations struggle with rapid change, it occurred to me that they exhibited exactly the same traits as most large and cumbersome expedition teams you see in the Himalayas today. It became pretty clear to me that there was a lot to be learned from the alpine style ethos.

Can you tell us about how the book took shape? How long did it take from start to finish and were there any hurdles?

The book was written using the light and fast approach. Using my 10,000 hours of knowledge, so to speak, I knew what I wanted to communicate, I just had to get the go ahead from Wiley (the publisher) and then actually write it. It was written in eight weeks, and because I was travelling a lot at the time, it was written mostly on planes and hotel rooms in Copenhagen, Zurich, Queenstown, London and Washington DC.

What are some of the key insights we can expect from the title?

By reading this book you can expect to gain a fresh perspective on why most organisations which serve us in society do everything expedition style. This in turn means that you too probably do most things in life expedition style. These days with an overly-bureaucratic world, it’s easy to fall prey to living your life in expedition style, relying upon fixed infrastructure for help. An alpine style ethos , which proposes self-reliance as opposed to dependence on others and infrastructure, is the solution to negotiating this rapidly changing world.

Is there anything that can be said about sustainability in business as motivated by outdoor pursuits?

I think business needs to shift the focus from being purely transactional, metric and outcome based, to being equally purpose and journey based. If you get the latter right, the former will take care of itself. It’s about humanising business. It’s about remembering that the original organisational construct was designed so that it could serve humans. It’s currently flipped — humans are serving organizations. It was never meant to be that way.

What have you planned for your next big adventure?

My daughter is now three and not surprisingly my last month-long expedition was three years ago! These days I prefer to head to New Zealand where, weather permitting, a week long trip can see you getting three or four days of climbing done. But my biggest adventure these days is teaching my daughter to grow up as a savvy and self-reliant individual, ready for tomorrow’s world.