Circuit Breakers: How to Walk Away from the Best Deals

The best deals are the ones you can walk away from. This is taken to the extreme when you face a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that is slipping off your hands. How do you decide whether to press harder, or to give up? Mountaineer Ed Viesturs may have something to teach us.

Viesturs has climbed Mt. Everest and stood on top of the world’s highest peak seven times. Seven times! What’s more interesting is that he didn’t make it in his first try, and neither in his second try.

He reached as close as 100 metres to the summit, but decided to turn around when the weather condition worsened. Let that sink in for a moment.

It’s obvious that climbing the Everest isn’t a cakewalk. You have to spend thousands of dollars, do months of training, take time away from work, friends, and family only to walk away when you have already climbed 8.7km and are only 100 metres away from your goal! Just imagine what you have to go through to give up on your dream.

The natural urge is to push ahead, and that’s what costs lives. Climbing the Everest was Viesturs’ dream, and that’s why he kept coming back again and again. But at the same time, he was willing to walk away when he needed to. You cannot accomplish your dream if you are dead.

What most people don’t understand is that climbing a mountain is a round trip. Getting off the mountain is more important than getting to the top.

Viesturs is also credited with being the only American to have climbed the world’s 14 highest mountain peaks, and the fifth person to do so without using supplemental oxygen. But it took him 21 attempts—seven of which resulted in him giving up. This was possible only because he had Circuit Breakers installed in his decision-making process, and was willing to walk away when things went south.

It’s impossible to make the right call when you are in the thick of things, swayed by powerful emotions. It’s extremely hard to let go off your once-in-a-lifetime opportunities when you are only inches away, but that’s exactly when you make bad decisions.

So, a good strategy is to avoid making runtime decisions, and install Circuit Breakers well ahead in time when you can do you best thinking.

Installing circuit breakers means deciding in advance to not take a course of action when you hit a specific and quantifiable circumstance. For example, abandoning the expedition when your oxygen level falls below a certain amount, or a certain pace isn’t met, or a certain geographical location isn’t reached in a certain amount of time.

If the team hits one of them, there’s no arguing or debating on the mountain when everyone is tired. They’ve already decided; they’ve already planned for this in advance. It’s time to turn around.

Not only negatives, circuit breakers should go off when we hit a metric that denotes a lack of positive. For example, you should shut down a business if there are no paying customers for a certain duration, or a certain revenue figure isn’t met, or the cash flow falls below a certain limit.

Efficient circuit breakers take the stress out of the decision-making process when things become stressful. Spend time designing them. Tweak and update when needed, but never start an expedition without installing one. Out of 30+ expeditions, Ed Viesturs has never been injured, and he’s never had to see a teammate die on any peak thanks to proper circuit breakers that were installed.

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