On May 10, 1996, five perished conquering Mount Everest. The unprecedented tragedy has been analyzed from multiple lens and conflicting views abound what went wrong. No single cause can be identified in high-stake decisions that lead up to the disaster. A complex system of errors looking into leadership dynamics and communication and cognitive biases strive to explain the complications of the Everest tragedy.Lessons from Everest demands leaders to balance competing pressures from within the organization and focuses on how words and actions can impact members and dictate success. An implicit lesson comes forwards and outlines how leaders can shape perceptions and direct organizations to make and implement decisions.
Strong leaders need to nurture commitment, dissent, and confidence and further strike the balance in between. For instance, Hall made it very clear that he did not wish to hear dissenting views during the final push to the summit. His subtle signal communicated status and built a relationship that constrained team communication and hindered its ability to thoroughly analyze information under critical situations. Fostering constructive dissent and allowing debate among members can diminish overly optimistic projections and allow critical evaluation. Hall and Fisher’s failure to create a team environment that encourages opinions greatly contributed to this tragedy due to unethical decision making and cognitive biases such as status and overconfidence.The sunk-cost effect demonstrates the danger of escalated commitment to a failing course of action and how it typically triggers people who have invested considerable resources such as time, effort, and money to make irrational decisions. The story of 1996 Everest highlights the importance of not leaving key decisions such as turnaround time up to open discussion and how violating such rules result in additional risk and losses. Hasan, a past expediator turned around in 1995, was clouded by the sunk-cost effect and paid with his life for his inability to cut losses despite the difficulty of the decision.
Failure to take the course into action and allow illogical high-pressure represents an ethical failure of team leadership as an understanding of the sunk-cost effect alone is not enough to stray individuals from making this mistake. The recency effect comes into play when critical mistakes based off incorrect assumptions of the weather were made based on previous seasons. Hall and Fischer treated agreeable weather as a norm and overlooked past weather patterns. Their failure to take all information into account while making high-stake decisions severely impacted their rationality and created a cognitive bias that greatly contributed to the unprecedented disaster. Paired with the sunk-cost effect and the overconfidence bias, the effect exacerbated the team’s capacity to process information and make well-informed decisions.
Roberto’s article reinforces the importance to examine how cognitive, interpersonal, and systemic forces interact to affect the process and performance. Recognizing multiple factors that combine to contribute to failures and exploring the linkages among forces involved at different levels help understand and minimize future failures.