August 4, 2007
What if a Faculty or a Law Firm Partnership (or a Homeowners' Association) Tried to Climb a Mountain?
Posted by Jeff Lipshaw
As I mentioned in a comment to a Rick Garnett post over at PrawfsBlawg a couple days ago, I love mountain climbing stories, even though my acrophobia is so pronounced I can't imagine doing it (yikes, a panic attack at 16,000 feet!). My first vicarious experience was attending a slide show hosted by one of my college roommates, who climbed Mt. McKinley in the early 1970s as part of the National Outdoor Leadership School. Then one of my former partners from Dykema Gossett in Detroit, Lou Kasischke, was part of the disastrous Everest climb in 1996, and Lou shows up as one of the saner people in Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. (Lou sensed trouble lurking, and turned back without reaching the summit, and spent the awful night in his tent, not aware of the problems up above. He did a speaking engagement thing afterwards, in which he talked about the balance of ambition and judgment, particularly when oxygen-deprived at 26,000 feet.)
There's a new book out entitled Forever on the Mountain, by James M. Tabor, about a 1967 climb up Mt. McKinley in which seven climbers died in an Arctic hurricane. The thesis is that at least one cause of the disaster was the nature of the group itself - a hybrid agglomeration of climbers, most of whom did not know each other before the expedition, and very few of whom acknowledged the leadership of the organizer. In particular, one group of three had merged formally into the larger group of nine, and there was friction between the two group leaders. Think about it: the entire group had only one common goal - to get to the summit and back down. Nevertheless, the expedition was rife with personal agendas, feuds, and a lot of bitching and moaning. One example: some members refused to be on ropes with other members.
I can't really talk about faculties except by hearsay (at this point), and I could make the obvious analogies to fractious partner meetings, but I think I will focus on speed bumps. Some of us here in our little self-governed neighborhood thought there was a significant problem with speeding on the street. The board, which consists of five of the thirty-six homeowners, voted to put in seasonal speed bumps. Nobody likes the speed bumps, but some people really hate the speed bumps. But my favorite response was the person who sent around an e-mail questioning the legal authority of the board to install the speed bumps.
My suggestion is that, for certain classes of people - mountain-climbing mega-Alpha males, law firm partners, faculty members, affluent lakeside homeowners - submitting oneself to the leadership of others is the hardest possible task.
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