We belong to a group of researchers from all over the world, known as the Research Group on Extreme Environments – Everyday Decisions (Triple E.D), who have the peculiar interest of everyday activities in extreme environments of different kinds. At Cranfield, we focussed on a specific extreme environment which can occur in any organization, project or programme: K2, the second highest mountain in the world.
The case reveals a lack of ‘Mindful Leadership’. In order to understand this concept, please watch the Introduction to Mindful Leadership.
In detail, Mindful Leadership is further explained in the book chapter “The Internalization of Attention at 28,000 Feet - Revisiting the K2 2008 Disaster”.
In order to enable students to ‘experience’ what it means to be mindful, we have developed K2 - The Simulation.
Impact of our research
Our analysis of the 2008 disaster on K2 led to a number of outputs. These range from written teaching case studies to an audio case study, the development of a website and iTunes module, an action-based simulation for team-building tools, skills and development, as well as a book chapter and research papers.
With the help of all these assets, we engage with organisations, who face conditions of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA). The use of an unorthodox context such as K2 facilitates learning from extreme conditions and enables the phenomena of Mindfulness to be explored. Understanding the principles in such an unusual environment allows the ideas to be explored and discussed, enabling a fuller understanding. Subsequently applying the ideas back in a ‘normal’ work context is then more straightforward.
Why the research was commissioned
K2, sometimes called Savage Mountain, is located on the Pakistan-China border. It has the highest fatality rate of any mountain in the world, with approximately one in four climbers not making it back alive. One of the challenges of K2 is its sustained technical difficulty; its face is characterised by more than 45 degree angles with a rocky and icy surface, combined with sudden life-threatening changes in weather conditions. Climbers assemble at the base camp to attempt to summit this majestic mountain each year, typically between June and August.
Clearly most managers do not face challenges of this magnitude in their day-to-day work. However, by looking at such extremes we can identify concepts that can be applied valuably in more benign environments.