Hope is Not a Strategy. Climb.
I’ve read Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors by journalist Piers Paul Read four times.
1974 (first read)
The year it was published I was in middle school.
My only memory of this first reading is the sensationalized news reports of the 1972 event.
2015 (second read)
On YouTube, I stumbled across a History Channel documentary of this survival tale, which prompted me to read the book again. All 16 survivors were alive, now grown men in their 50s and 60s. It’s as if I were reading the book for the first time.
Lost to me on the first read in 1974 was how young they were, ages 16 to 24, some only a few years older than me at the time. With this read I reflected on who I was at those ages, convinced I could not have withstood such trials.
Where were the clues? What contributed to the characters of such young men – boys, really – to allow for this unimaginable will, and in the face of deep personal loss? (Forty five passengers were on the plane. The survivors lost friends and family members in the crash.)
One survivor’s refusal to hope (and therefore, wait) for rescue, struck deep in me. Instead, he chose to climb out of the Andes. He knew he might not make it but he also knew that he wasn’t willing to die without trying.
My biggest take away: waiting is not a strategy. “If you want something,” wrote Chris Gardner in the book, The Pursuit of Happyness, “go get it. Period.”
2016 (third read)
I had longed for conclusion to a turbulent life transition. The end not in sight, the survivors’ story haunted me, and called out for another read. I sought its guidance about the human response to adversity and crisis.
So much to assimilate: How some press on. Some give up. How the mind and spirit morph with turns of circumstance. How to be active participants in our own destiny. How followers become leaders and vice versa.
I appended to this third reading, memoirs from two survivors, now in their middle years, who reflected on their ordeal with the benefit of life experience. Capturing my interest now, after two decades in the corporate world and training in organizational dynamics, was the team culture of the 16 young men. Their 72 days in the mountains could have deteriorated into a Lord of the Flies dynamic. It didn’t.
Their travails and geographic isolation strengthened them as individuals and as a group. Despite widely different constitutions and reactions to their situation, each one recognized, then tapped in himself and others, individual gifts that advanced the group’s survival.
2017 (fourth read)
The young men’s ability to achieve a goal inconceivable to most seemed to result from an extraordinary team dynamic worthy of study by CEOs and other organizational leaders.
What struck me on the fourth read: This is the greatest leadership book ever written. It is a window on how to:
Cultivate a productive, positive culture when faced with extreme adversity.
Identify and tap individual strengths.
Surface the best in team dynamics.
Craft your own reality: Don’t be blinded by what others think. Radio reports said the search was called off, they were presumed dead. “No one” could survive in those mountains during the winter said the experts. Yet, they did.
Come to agreement but not necessarily consensus, which often results in mediocre solutions.
Embrace a willingness to do whatever it takes, no low-hanging fruit mentality: We might die trying. We definitely will die if we don’t.
Put forth a single, unwavering message.
Release attachment to hierarchy: Those with natural leadership qualities became followers as the situation called for it. They were able to say, “I can’t do this; someone else is better suited.”
Keep your collective mindset focused on a North Star: Though the survivors were wrong about their geographic location, what propelled them forward was their belief that they were closer to civilization, and better odds of rescue.
My number one take away from this story read numerous times over four decades, and which I’m now old enough to know is true: Hope is not a strategy.