Why do we climb mountains?

We have talked a lot at Rakuten recently about mountain climbing, especially since I replaced golf with a climb up Mt. Tanigawa in the Japanese Alps for our annual executive management camp. So, I want to take a moment to talk about mountains because I think they can play an important role in our lives.

Rakuten team on Mt. Tanigawa, 2015
Rakuten team on Mt. Tanigawa, 2015

Typically, people think of the mountain summit as the goal and the act of climbing as the process, but this is not the right perspective. What awaits you at the top is a nice view and a sense of satisfaction. But at the end of the day, it is nothing more than a fleeting moment. Is your real goal reaching the peak or is it something along the way? Once you come back to the mountain base, you have probably developed new skills, teamwork and solidarity with your fellow climbers, gaining an experience that you just can’t put a price on.

Even professional climbers, who love nothing more than mountain climbing, don’t choose to live on mountain peaks. While I’m sure they enjoy the view at the top, they are probably already thinking of other peaks and journeys ahead of them. What is the next challenge? How am I going to get there? Who am I going to bring with me?

Think about it. When you are about to take on a big challenge you think about who can help guide you, who can support you, or conversely, who you can guide and support. In fact, these are all essential parts of you achieving your goal: choosing the right people; researching and choosing the route; fixing a schedule; preparing your gear; and considering and preparing for contingencies.

Once you’ve achieved a special goal, like a mountain peak, it should become a milestone on your life journey. Our IPO in 2000 was not the ultimate goal for Rakuten, but it was an important milestone in developing a sustainable company.

And not all our goals need to be lofty mountain peaks. At Rakuten, we codified the importance of small goals in our Principles for Success. I did the math and realized that if you improve by just 1% every day, after 365 days you will be 37 times ahead of where you started. A 3700% improvement is dramatic, but it can also be the simple result of focusing on incremental improvement.

Goals in life and business are not exactly the same as real mountain peaks, but mountain climbing does closely resemble an individual’s experiences in life. In order to continue to give your best to your job day in and day out, you need goals.

That’s what the mountain stands for: It reminds us of the importance of goals, in climbing, in business and in life.

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