The story behind the title photo – Part 1, People

I figured it would be nice to put an image up which has personal significance for me and I didn’t have to look far to find it. It was serendipitous when I realised that the story behind it allows me to relate back to my subject matter.

Ever since I was a small child I would visit the Maritime Alps in France and Switzerland and there is one vista which dominates the landscape and which found its way into my imagination: the view of the highest mountain in that range and in Europe, Mont Blanc. At 4810m above sea level it is head and shoulders taller than anything else nearby and from nearby Chamonix, it towers above the landscape.

I knew that I had to climb it from a very young age and would often survey it from afar, from the top of of some smaller peak. And as the years went by, I gathered the experience, strength, equipment and friendships required to do such a thing.

For every endeavour, I believe that People, Process and Technology have equal significance. As I thought through this story in my mind, I realised that I would need 3 blogs to tell the story.

In order to take this photograph, I needed the assistance of a number of people in my life. Probably I have missed some, but here are the people I think were significant:

Allan Appleby, my father

I think the significant moment for me was at the age of 5. My parents had foolishly bought an apartment in Haute-Nendaz, near Verbier in Switzerland and we were therefore tethered to go there on holiday for the rest of our childhoods. Winter skiing was fantastic (C&A ski clothing on the other hand was not) and we would also come in summer.

So we purchased mountain boots and we stood at the bottom of the ski run, now a green mountain pasture. My father said “well it’s just 20 minutes up here”. Actually the world record for ski descent is about 7 minutes, which is actually more like a 4 hour ascent. Now I was a 5 year old child with no idea of my limits and by the time we got to the Dent de Nendaz, over 1000m/3000ft above Haute-Nendaz, I was done for, and had to be carried back down. But I was hooked, and sworn to secrecy by my father (the precipitous drops would have given my mother a heart attack.

Paul Obo, Friend, Colleague & Fellow Climber

Paul will be surprised to be mentioned here, but that’s partially his self-deprecating nature. My first memory of Paul is of him attempting to get back to his flat within Clapham North Art Centre. I say attempting because he was using the stone wall as a means to guide him home. We became friends and he now works at Bluefin in Internal IT.

Paul had lived with some pretty serious climbers, whom I later met at his wedding and those climbing gods like Leo Houlding (for the car nuts amongst you, he was the guy who raced an Audi RS4 up a mountain in TV show Top Gear) somehow tangentially spurred us into hitting the rock climbing walls in London.

Now, Paul is a great climber and a terrible knot tier. And most climbing walls require you to fit a harness and tie a knot before they will grant you membership. I have fond memories of sitting in my car on my Smartphone in 2004 outside The Castle in Stoke Newington, trying to teach ourselves how to tie the climbing knots so we wouldn’t have to pay for lessons. Paul failed the knot test on at least one occasion. And out climbed me on many others.

Françoise & Olivier @ Neige et Roc, Samoëns

Samoëns is the perfect mountain town just a valley away from Chamonix and it’s a great place to learn the art of mountaineering. I’ve been going for nearly 10 years now and I still love it. There, I made friends with Francois and Olivier and from there I got the confidence to push into the snow line.

Françoise and I would challenge each other to do ever harder things and would race up and down mountains, to the fear of other mountaingoers and goats alike. We pushed a bit hard once and she badly sprained her ankle with a fall, but that’s another story.

Michel Barras, Mountain Guide

I think my introduction to Michel came pretty much by accident. I wanted a guide with whom I would climb Le Grand Mont Ruan and enquired at the tourist office. It happens that Michel has been part of the Bureau de Guides in Samoëns since the beginning of time and his history is fascinating. Perhaps more on Michel some other time.

We quickly built a bond of friendship and I always stop by at Michel’s house whenever I’m in town for a drink on his terrace overlooking town. It’s here that we plan our next crazy endeavour – although Michel is much madder than I am, climbing 8000ers and organising marathons in the Himalayas. He’s part man, part titanium screw and a little crazy.

And with Michel I built a true respect for the mountains, their dangers and how to assess risk. And also to know when to turn back. Because the vast majority of accidents on a mountain happen on the way down.

Why do people matter?

So the location of this picture was highly motivated by all of these people. It’s Françoise’s favourite mountain that I’m standing on, and I wouldn’t have been able to climb it without the experience garnered from these people, and I wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for Michel planning our next mission.

And it’s the same in Enterprise IT. It’s not about having the best people, but rather about having people who are qualified and inspirational, at the right time and in the right place. People who knows how to challenge your or your business and who also know your limits.

Next up: Part 2, Process

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3 Responses to The story behind the title photo – Part 1, People

  1. Jon Reed says:

    John –

    Glad to be the inaugural comment on your personal blog. I love following the personal blogs of my enterprise colleagues. It’s amazing how much we miss – a number of long trade show benders (convos) under our belts and I didn’t know you were a climber.

    It’s where the personal intersects the enterprise that a lot of the sparks tend to fly. The most incisive critiques of enterprise software often come from this angle also, so I expect we’ll see some of that from you here. As for people, process, and tech – well, it’s always those three elements, in some order. Usually the commentator in question is overrating one at the expense of the other. Again it’s the intersection between the three that is the, if you will allow me a climbing metaphor, Mt Everest of this industry. Or for those who know their mountaineering, K2 – a much more difficult climb.

    Climb (and write) on!


  2. Pingback: The story behind the title photo – Part 2, Process | People, Process & Technology

  3. Pingback: The story behind the title photo – Part 3, Technology | People, Process & Technology

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