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Destructive Goal Pursuit

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Destructive Goal Pursuit

The Mount Everest Disaster

Palgrave Macmillan,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

When to pursue a goal, and when to let it go, based on the saga of people who didn’t know when to quit climbing Everest.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Applicable


You can see the summit; it’s right there, a lifelong goal. Unfortunately, you’re out of oxygen, it’s getting dark and a storm is brewing. Setting goals and doggedly pursuing them is a corporate religion, so it seems blasphemous to assert that focusing on goals can be fatal. However, the 1996 Everest disaster shows that sticking to stubborn, simple goals in complicated, shifting environments can lead to fiasco. D. Christopher Kayes evaluates the dynamics of teams and leaders in crisis, as illustrated by this tragedy, where climbers died trying to reach the summit who might have survived if they hadn’t single-mindedly pursued that goal. getAbstract recommends Kayes’ compellingly written study to those who wish to understand leadership’s vulnerabilities, and goal setting’s potential to cause unforeseen and dire results. To ensure that your goals lead to success, build resilient teams that can learn on the edge of the cliff.


Striving for the Highest Summit

In early May 1996, several climbing teams set out for Everest, including one led by American Scott Fischer, a team led by the New Zealander Rob Hall and a Taiwanese team. Fischer and Hall established absolute authority over their teams. Hall exuded confidence, although his claim of a “100% success” rate getting to Everest’s peak wasn’t actually true. Fischer, a celebrated climber, became a guide during the ’90s commercial explosion in Everest climbing.

At $65,000 per person, organizing groups of paying customers to pool resources made sense. But the new commercial paradigm changed the dynamic of Everest climbing teams. The civilian trekkers were not mountaineers. They were passive followers of hotshot guides. Seeking adventure, they thought hiring experts like Hall or Fischer guaranteed success. Hall led 24 people. Eight were clients, including Beck Weathers, a doctor trying to scale the tallest peaks on seven continents, and proficient climber and adventure writer, Jon Krakauer. Fischer’s team of 23 included nine clients, among them experienced climber Pete Schoening, his nephew Klev Schoening and celebrity Sandy Hill Pittman, ex-wife...

About the Author

In 1996, D. Christopher Kayes, a hiker, traveled to the base of Mount Everest in the wake of the climbing disaster. He has written several influential papers on the psychology of leadership and teaches organizational behavior at George Washington University.

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