Practical analysis for investment professionals
09 June 2017

Weekend Reads: El Capitan, Everest, and Peak Performance

Posted In: Weekend Reads

It has been an epic week. And I don’t use that adjective lightly.

At 31 years of age, Alex Honnold became the first person to “free-solo” to the top of El Capitan, the 3,000-foot-tall granite wall in Yosemite National Park.

Just so we are clear: He did so without ropes or safety gear, just a small bag of chalk. And he made it to the top in under four hours. To further put it into perspective, in January 2015, Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell became the first to free-climb the Dawn Wall, one of the routes up the face of El Capitan. It took them 19 days. And unlike Honnold, they used harnesses and ropes for safety.

The day after Honnold’s remarkable feat, more than 21,000 runners took to the road for the annual Comrades Marathon, a grueling 86.73-kilometer race between the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg in South Africa. It is the world’s largest and oldest ultramarathon race. Runner’s World describes it as: “Fifty-five brutal miles. Five torturous climbs. A ruthless clock.”

On Monday, four Arab states — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain — took the extraordinary step of severing diplomatic ties and transport links with Qatar, a US military partner.

The following day (6 June) marked the 73rd anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II. John Authers of the Financial Times writes that it was “one of the bloodiest and most important days of warfare in human history.” Here’s a look at a remarkable set of colorized photos of the D-Day landings.

All of this was before former FBI Director James Comey’s riveting testimony to the US Senate Intelligence Committee and the general election in the United Kingdom, which saw campaigning suspended over the weekend due to the London Bridge terrorist attacks.

If I were to pick a theme or two for this week, it might well be endurance and resilience.

Here are some good reads and one TED Talk in case you missed them:

  • I recently had the opportunity to watch Meru, which documents the efforts of three climbers — Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, and Renan Ozturk — to conquer the “Shark’s Fin” route on “Meru, a 21,000-foot-plus mountain in the Garhwal Himalayas in northern India.” The Shark’s Fin is a 1,500-foot vertical rock wall at the very top that is regarded as one of the toughest climbs in the worldMeru won the 2015 Sundance Film Festival’s prestigious Audience Award. It is a remarkable feat of camerawork and a tale of resilience and human endurance. To undertake climbing Meru, “You can’t just be a good ice climber,” says Jon Krakauer, the bestselling author of Into Thin Air, “You can’t just be good at altitude. You can’t just be a good rock climber. It’s defeated so many good climbers and maybe will defeat everybody for all time. Meru isn’t Everest. On Everest, you can hire Sherpas to take most of the risks. This is a whole different kind of climbing.” As David Ferry explains, Chin filmed much of the climb while tacked to the Shark’s Fin rock wall, the final section of the 21,850-foot Meru Peak. If you’re curious about what drives people to scale seemingly insurmountable peaks, and the mental and physical strength needed to survive the conditions and setbacks, this one is for you. (NPR, Outside)
  • Meru made me think of Kilian Jornet Burgada, the Spanish ultra runner-turned-alpinist who summited Mount Everest twice in one week without oxygen or fixed ropes. He was the subject of a 2013 profile I included once before and am doing again: “Becoming the All-Terrain Human.” According to Jay Bouchard, “Burgada set a new record for the fastest known alpine ascent of the world’s highest peak in the early hours of Monday morning, having climbed 11,429 feet to the top of Everest in a mere 26 hours.” Outside profiled him in 2014. “You need to be humble. This sport is about improving, not winning,” he told the magazine. “You never learn from victory.” (Kilian JornetThe New York Times, Outside, Himalayan Times )
  • It is easy to get bogged down in negativity these days, which is why I appreciated a recent The Science of Work article suggesting the best self-help advice may be to focus not on self-esteem but on “other-esteem.”  It was a good reminder to ask: “How can I start seeing more of the good in people, more often?” (Fast Company)
  • Brad Stulberg, a columnist for Outside magazine and co-author of the new book Peak Performance, writes that so much of performance focuses on the individual but that that only tells half  the story: “What sets the best apart from the rest isn’t cutting-edge technology, or ritzy facilities, or even great individual athletes or coaches,” he says. “It’s the supportive community and culture; when the athletes and coaches are all dedicated to getting better and supporting each other in doing so. This kind of culture makes doing the hard thing just a little easier, whether the ‘hard thing’ is a specific task, keeping a positive attitude amongst a string of setbacks, or gritting out a tedious stretch of work.” While a positive environment and great leaders can have a positive effect on a group, negativity may be a more powerful force. He cites a 2010 study of US Air Force Academy cadets in which psychologists from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) tracked a cohort of cadets over four years: “Even though all the squadrons trained and recovered in exactly the same manner, some squadrons showed vast increases in fitness over four years whereas others did not. It turns out the determining factor as to whether the 30 cadets within a squadron improved was the motivation of the least fit person in the group. If the least fit person was motivated to improve, then his enthusiasm spread and everyone improved. If, on the other hand, the least fit person was apathetic or, worse, negative, he dragged everyone down. Just like diseases easily spread through tight-knit groups, so does motivation. And it’s quite contagious.” If you’re feeling demotivated, ask yourself: Who is in my squadron? Whose motivation is rubbing off on me? (The Mission)
  • Stulberg’s article reminded me of a recent tweet by Stanford University professor Bob Sutton: “The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.” Sutton is the author of a book with the mildly obscene title: The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t. He wrote an article explaining why he had used “such a bold (and to some, offensive) title.” (Harvard Business Review )
  • Speaking of leadership, the late Warren Bennis was “an eminent scholar and author who advised presidents and business executives on his academic specialty, the essence of successful leadership — a commodity he found in short supply in recent decades.” When he died in 2014, his obituary noted that Bennis “believed in the adage that great leaders are not born but made, insisting that ‘the process of becoming a leader is similar, if not identical, to becoming a fully integrated human being.’ . . . Both, he said, were grounded in self-discovery.” His daughter, Kate Bennis, recently wrote about what her father might have made of this moment in history. (The New York Times, Kate Bennis Coaching)
  • I love walking and really enjoyed this wonderful essay on the relationship between walking, thinking, and writing. (The New Yorker)
  • From walking, my thinking leads me to driving, or more specifically, not driving, and what a future with driverless or self-driving cars looks like. RethinkX, an independent think tank that analyzes and forecasts the speed and scale of technology-driven disruption and its implications across society, released a report, “Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030,” and notes “we are on the cusp of one of the fastest, deepest, most consequential disruptions of transportation in history.”
  • Does .999 . . . = 1? Mathematician Steven Strogratz describes the blog post,”0.999 . . . It Just Keeps On Going” as “a careful discussion, both mathematically and psychologically, of why .999 . . . = 1 and why many people don’t believe it.” (Shiny Pebbles and Other Stuff)
  • If you’re an arachnophobe, this next article probably isn’t for you. The Thoughts of a Spiderweb is a fascinating exploration of spiders apparently offloading cognitive tasks to their webs. (Quanta Magazine)
  • Morgan Housel recently penned a thoughtful post on the difference between expiring knowledge and long-term knowledge and why it’s important to shift the balance to the latter: “Expiring knowledge tells you what happened; long-term knowledge tells you why something happened and is likely to happen again. That ‘why’ can translate and interact with stuff you know about other topics, which is where the compounding comes in.” (The Collaborative Fund)
  • This echoes a recent column by Andrew Hill about the real return on reading novels, or “brain food.” (Financial Times)
  • And finally, architecture critic Justin Davidson recently made his TED debut with a wonderful talk on “Why Glass Towers are Bad for City Life — and What We Need Instead.” (TED)

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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.

Image credit: ©Getty Images/Ray Kachatorian

About the Author(s)
Lauren Foster

Lauren Foster is a content director on the professional learning team at CFA Institute and host of the Take 15 Podcast. She is the former managing editor of Enterprising Investor and co-lead of CFA Institute’s Women in Investment Management initiative. Lauren spent nearly a decade on staff at the Financial Times as a reporter and editor based in the New York bureau, followed by freelance writing for Barron’s and the FT. Lauren holds a BA in political science from the University of Cape Town, and an MS in journalism from Columbia University.

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