Valuable lessons from Everest movie – Part 1: Knowing when to stop

Valuable lessons from Everest movie – Part 1: Knowing when to stop

The Everest movie (2015) has some good lessons in life. And some good lessons for those dealing with leading change. One of them is to know when to stop and not bring the whole initiative or program in danger.


This is the setting: In the Everest movie Rob reaches the summit just on time. Descending with other climbers, Rob encounters Doug – who had to stop earlier on the way up – struggling just above the Hillary Step and orders him to turn back. Doug says he will not get the chance again and insists on continuing. Rob feels pity and reluctantly agrees, and together they reach the summit after 4 pm which was 2 hours after the latest time for a safe return. It came with a price. Rob and Doug never made it back alive.


I watched this movie on one of my plane rides and had some time to reflect on it afterwards. It reminded me about the many times that I was involved in projects where stakeholders or team members just do not know when to stop. When to stop with adding scope against knowing better. When to stop with pushing to keep the existing scope and timeline. When to stop with pulling in dates. When to stop with pushing teams so hard that they will fail. Yes, all cliches, but unfortunately the reality where most of us deal with on a day-to-day basis. In particular when dealing with strong willed and opinionated sponsors (people I typically love to work with as they get things done), we have to help them see things from our perspective, certainly if we have delivered solutions or similar projects before. It’s part of managing change. Some will be convinced sooner than others. Some will never be convinced. It doesn’t mean we have to stop trying and certainly not communicating the risks.

Since seeing this movie I have conveyed this scene to sponsors on some of my programs to get attention to areas which could negatively impact the outcome. Did it help? Did they change their mind suddenly about things that deeply concerned me. Perhaps not always directly, but it’s just another tool in our toolbox to manage risks and lead towards successful outcome. I do believe that these kind of ‘messages’ will help to portrait a bigger ‘scene’ that you want to get across. If you have the trust of your sponsors they will take notice of your concerns. If they don’t listen now and they bear the consequences, you can count on it that they will remember it and something that can work in your favor next time you work with that sponsor or person.


Some practical tips based on my experience:

  • Timing is everything. I typically use these type of stories in my one-on-ones people. If I use them in bigger audience, I try to use visuals such as clip of the movie and make it a teaching lesson.
  • When you use examples, put it in context to what the message means to them and give clear examples.
  • Consider giving small ‘reminder’ that draws their attention back to your story and of course the underlying message. In this case, you could give them a nice printed image of Mount Everest to hang in their office with a nice quote. Or you can give them something as simple as a carabiner to put on their desk. It’s the thought that counts, more than how much money you spent on it…