Monday, January 28, 2013

To the Limit – Lessons from Rock Climbing for Federal Communicators


Posted by: Britt Ehrhardt, Jan. 28, 2013

This weekend, I watched a movie about two German guys trying to set the speed rock climbing record on El Capitan in Yosemite. Most experienced climbers still take days to climb The Nose. These guys – the Huber brothers – eventually did it in 2 hours and 45 minutes. It got me thinking about the lessons that rock climbing adventure movies have to offer us communicators.

1. Love what you do (or at least really like it).

People are more compelling when they love what they do. The climbers in the movie told the camera that they lived to climb. They couldn’t have imagined life without it, and they seemed willing to bear any hardship to do what they liked most. Federal communicators need passion too. Does anyone doubt that these folks love working for NASA? It shows in everything they do, and it makes their message far more compelling. Not just the people on camera, but those off camera, as well, put a passion into this YouTube video that made it popular.

2. Even failure makes an interesting story and builds relationships.

The movie ends with the two climbers falling short of their goal, both injured in falls in the attempt. But that doesn’t make the story any less interesting. If anything, the climbers’ reaction to failure is more interesting than their success might have been. Government communicators should take note. Especially in social media and digital communication, where content can move extremely quickly, mistakes happen. Your agency might be the next one to experience an errant tweet. There are things you can do now to prepare to capitalize on that opportunity. Here’s my all-time favorite fail smart example from the American Red Cross. We could all learn from their good humor and transparency, which arguably strengthened their relationships with their online communities.

The movie is called Am Limit, in German, also listed as To the Limit, in English (IMDb). The climbers fell short on camera but eventually beat the record off camera, the year after the filming.

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