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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Following the Lead Climber in Forging Your Business Network Path

Credit: Tom Curtis at

Credit: Tom Curtis at

My daughter is into rock climbing. So I spend my Saturday mornings watching her scramble up terrifyingly acute slopes with the sound of carabiners snapping to attention as she ascends ever greater heights.

In rock climbing, there is the concept of the “lead” who determines the optimal route, tests the footholds, inserts the clippy things (I’m no expert), takes most of the risk, and guides the team behind her. “Reach a little over to your left, there’s a good hold just above you.” The lead carries her own rope and has much further to fall than everyone else.

Leading is hard, enervating, and can be dangerous, and only the most experienced can do it. It’s a similar role to one that was played by the Everest climbers Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, but it’s played out every Saturday morning on English granite.

In business and a business network, going first is also hard and risky. The first sellers on eBay were not sure that there would ever be enough buyers to drive prices up in their auctions. The first makers of expensive telex machines had to persuade their trading partners to buy one and, to some extent, train them on its use.

The good news is that in modern business networks the leaders have already ascended, leaving the well-marked routes for us all. They all have:

  • Battled with technology
  • Experimented with different business models and found which ones work
  • Got legislation changed (for example, EU legislation regarding electronic signatures)
  • Developed training, information packs, and tools for their trading partners

The risks have largely been eliminated and the result is a clear, well-marked, safe route to the top.

The danger of not going is you’ll be left on the ground staring upwards while everyone else is “following the leader” and are even now swarming up the rock face. The leader on your route could be any of the following:

  • A key supplier that wants to send an updated catalog of its latest products
  • A large customer that insists you must invoice electronically
  • A logistics partner that wants you to include its tracking page with your shipment information
  • One of your sales channels that wants to set up a web storefront for your products

As they say in the climbing world, it’s time to “clip-in” and take the first step up the slope. The view from the summit is incredible.


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