My first boss was an inspiring leader who had achieved great things from a young age. He had been named Director of all Latin American operations of a big American energy company before he turned 30. One day I asked him how did he dare to take on this big challenge. He responded with a story that I always remember.
In 1972, an airplane flying between Uruguay and Chile crashed in the middle of the Andes mountains. The plane was carring a team of very young Rugby players that were traveling to a competition.Many people died in the crash, but some survived. Rescue teams from three countries did helicopter searches around the area for many days and after failing to find the plane, they declared it lost. The group of survivors were left to their own.
After weeks of hopelessness, two young kids who were members of the rugby team made a brave decision: to climb the mountains until they could find civilization and rescue the rest of the group. And so they did. After days climbing through the Andes, with no special equipment and with terrible weather conditions, they found a man who helped them alert the authorities, who then rescued the remaining survivors.
A few years later, Nando Parrado, one of the two guys who climbed the mountains, recalled what the expert Andes climbers told them after their feat. Given the weather conditions and their lack of equipment, the experts themselves would never have climbed the mountains. They would have known that it was an impossible mission and a death wish. They would had even prevented anybody from trying it.
As it turns out, this “impossible” feat was in fact possible, contrary to the experts’ knowledge. Extremely unlikely, but possible. So what Nando said, was something like this: “Being ignorant and naive about the possibilities turned out to be an advantage. Had we known anything about mountain climbing we probably wouldn’t have done it at all, and as a consequence we wouldn’t have survived.”
I have always remembered this story and it has helped me have the courage to take on big challenges, even when I have no idea about what I’m getting into or how unlikely my chances of success are. I wish that ignorance and naiveté continue enabling me to take on big challenges in the future. And I wish the same for you.