By Chris Weidner, For the Camera
I first knew Jim Collins as the guy who set North American rock climbing standards in 1979 with his free ascent of Genesis (rated 5.12d but probably 5.13) in Boulder's Eldorado Canyon.
Collins, a Boulder native, became obsessed with free climbing this 100-foot vertical swath of red sandstone -- thought by many to be unclimbable -- as a student at Stanford University. After dozens of attempts in 1978, Collins "made a mental map of the holds" and, back at school, trained by climbing the sandstone walls of a building on campus.
"I trained between classes, carrying a needle in my shirt pocket to pop the blisters on my fingertips that arose from the regimen," he said. But still, Collins failed to free the route.
After much reflection, he realized that the barrier to success was primarily psychological. Collins predicted -- accurately -- that top climbers in the 1990s would view Genesis as a warm-up for even harder routes.
"I decided to pretend that it was not 1979, but 1994. I bought a little calendar and changed all the year dates. I walked into the canyon and tried to picture Genesis the way a 1990s climber would look at it."
With this fresh perspective, Collins soon freed the hardest route in America, if not the world.
Today, at 52, Collins is still an avid climber, but he's best known for authoring several chart-topping business and management books, which focus on the guts of enduring great companies. His latest book, "How the Mighty Fall" (May 2009), has already sold several million copies and has been translated into more than 30 languages.
Collins was on the faculty at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, where he received the Distinguished Teaching Award in 1992. In 1995, he founded a management laboratory in Boulder, where he focuses on research, writing and business consulting, including extensive work with nonprofits and education. He speaks publicly roughly 25 times a year, accepting only about 4 percent
One event at which Collins feels "privileged" to speak is the American Alpine Club's annual benefit and awards dinner in Englewood on Saturday. The American Alpine Club (americanalpineclub.org), 107 years old, is based in Golden.
"What unifies us are the bonds, values and shared experience of climbing," Collins said on the phone last week. "That's what's cool about the AAC -- it's about the community."
On Saturday, Collins will discuss some universal principles he's discovered in business that are readily applicable to life. For example, the most important question is who (to hire, work for, climb with, etc.), not what. Collins said, "The most important part of climbing is the comradeship. The rock doesn't care if you get up it, but your partners do."
He'll discuss how the best leaders are humble, yet possess unbending will; that they aren't necessarily the most visionary, but the most disciplined.
Collins will talk about the Stockdale Paradox, that in order to be successful you must have unwavering faith that you'll prevail; yet you must confront the facts of your situation, however brutal they are. Collins argues that getting to the top is just one part of climbing success. Another component, he says, is climbing until "fallure," which he defines as "100 percent commitment to going up."
In fallure, you try your absolute best, and never let go, but gravity rips you off the wall. This, Collins says, is success. He continues, "In the end, climbing is not about conquering the rock; it is about conquering yourself."
The AAC will present four major awards to the who's who of American climbing: Royal Robbins, Doug Robinson, Conrad Anker and Mark Richey. Among the attendees will be world-famous Colorado climbers Lynn Hill, Tommy Caldwell, Emily Harrington, Jim Donini and dozens of others.
Collins' 2001 best-seller, "Good to Great," is the most influential book I've ever read. Technically about companies and management, it may as well be a guidebook for climbing and life. When he gave me this book five years ago, he signed it, "For Chris, climb to Fallure!" I've been striving for that ever since.
Read more: Weidner: Striving for success ... and 'fallure' - Boulder Daily Camera