Thursday 26 September 2013

How knowledge management enabled the first ascent of Everest

38582-Everest Here's an excellent blog post, explaining how the successful first ascent of Everest was only possible through excellent knowledge management.

This KM approach included a program of knowledge acquisition over many years, and knowledge transfer between international climbing teams.

 The blog author, Kishore Kumar,  includes this quote from the team leader, John Hunt, which explains the attitude to knowledge sharing that made the first ascent possible

 The mission we undertook was not, in our eyes, in the nature of some competition on a giant scale.... Indeed, prolonged attempts to climb a difficult mountain are, or should be, essentially different from those of a competitive sport. A possible analogy, however, might be that of a relay race, in which each member of a team of runners hands the baton to the next at the end of his allotted span, until the race is finally run. The Swiss last year received that baton of knowledge from the latest in the long chain of British climbers and they in turn, after running a brilliant lap, passed it on to us. We chanced to be the last runners in this particular race, but we might well not have succeeded in finishing, in which case we would have handed on our knowledge to our French comrades who were preparing to take up the challenge. 
Hunt's "knowledge baton-race" included the following activities;

  • study of the results of a series of reconnaissance expeditions 
  • research and development on some of the key elements, such as oxygen sets
  • meticulous practice as a team, in Wales and in the Himalaya
  • a Knowledge Visit to the Swiss team, who had made the most recent attempt, in order to pick up the most recent knowledge
  • 5 months pre-planning, before the climbing season started

The Swiss knowledge visit led Hunt to concentrate on what was to turn out to be the most critical knowledge - logistics and supply. Tensing and Hillary succeeded partly because they were in the right place at the right time with the right supplies and the right back-up. The visit also alerted him that the Swiss had left oxygen cylinders on the mountain, and Hunt modified his own equipment so these could be re-used.

Of course, Hunt's expedition was successful. His team passed the finish line carrying the baton of knowledge, but he would have been the first to stress that this knowledge was fundamental to his success.

A century later, and that knowledge is available in explicit form.

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