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Hiking in the Alps during a thunderstorm – sunk cost fallacy in practice

Hiking in the Alps during a thunderstorm

Have you ever experienced a proper storm? How about a thunderstorm in the mountains? It usually starts with small rain. However, in the high mountain like the Alps, it can quickly escalate to the dangerous scenario. I continue the series of blog posts about the son and dad journey from last year. We went on a week-long trip to Europe. And today we experienced something that business language calls “sunk cost fallacy”. We were so excited and committed that it was hard to assess the real situation. Let’s roll to the full story, as the lesson learnt is significant.

Today is another fascinating and anticipated day. It is going to be a high mountain section. Currently, we are in a small village in the Alps. We want to go to one of the many beautiful places where you can first go up via cable car and then walk and climb various paths.

After delicious breakfast, we quickly packed up our stuff, and we were ready for another adventure. Here we come The Alps.

The late start and the first challenges πŸ’³

Our enthusiasm was tempered a little bit when we realised that we were kind of late this morning. The whole parking in the foot of the mountain was already full. Fortunately, we were quickly redirected to secondary parking space. That place was almost empty, but we promptly faced another challenge. It was paid parking place, but the cash machine was not accepting any cash but cards. None of my cards worked.

I asked one driver to show me how it supposed to work. It turned that to pay on this space, I needed to have a special card. It was terrible news, as it would mean another delay. However, when the driver realised I didn’t have that special card, he just bought tickets for both of us. Good people do exist!

The Alps πŸ”

I used my super basic German to buy tickets for the cable car 🚠 as the lady didn’t speak English, and we were on the go, enjoying magnificent view.

Hiking in the Alps during a thunderstorm | the cable car 🚠

When we reached the top station, it was already a bit cloudy. We decided to go for a 1-hour walk. It seemed reasonable regarding the weather and my little companion who had never been in high mountains.

Hiking in the Alps during a thunderstorm | Where to go?
Hiking in the Alps during a thunderstorm | Where to go?

It was a beautiful scenic journey. It was quite smooth with some more difficult passages. We had a right tempo. We were so grateful we decided to come, and, despite some challenges, we made it so far. On our way we were passing a lot of tourists, but the most exciting and eye-catching was one family. The dad was pulling a little trolley with two small kids in it.

Hiking in the Alps during a thunderstorm | The wagon
The dad was pulling a little trolley with two small kids.

Unfortunately, about 15 minutes during our journey, it started raining. It was a light shower as Brits call it, but the dense, dark clouds weren’t promising. We heard first thunders somewhere in distance. I knew that the weather in the mountains can change very rapidly, especially in the Alps. We should turn around and go back to the safety of the station buildings. But how am I going to communicate this to my little mountaineer?

Hiking in thunderstorm β›ˆ

We decided to have a break under one big tree. I described what was happening. The storm in the mountains is very dangerous. Hiking in the Alps during a thunderstorm is no joke. We would not be able to hide. It could be raining very heavily, and we are on a more significant journey with a few days still left to enjoy. We traveled rather light, meaning we didn’t have a lot of clothes to change. Tomorrow we needed to move to the next place since we stayed in a different place every night. After this explanation, I asked my son, what did he think we should do.

He thought for a moment, and then he said:
– “It is so beautiful here. We haven’t seen anything yet.

My heart was broken, I didn’t know what to say. Maybe we should carry on and ignore the rain. We could try to dry our stuff overnight. We were not going to have another chance to walk in the Alps any time soon. But then I thought about the bigger picture. What if we got sick and needed to cancel the whole trip. What if it got really dangerous. It seemed like my son was thinking about the same as he asked me:
– β€œDo you think we should stay here and wait until the thunderstorm is gone?β€œ

With a broken heart, I started to explain the best course of action:
– β€œI think we should go back to the station. There is a restaurant there. We can go for lunch and wait there. We can also recheck the map and see if any other paths are leading to some other beautiful spots around.”

He sighed and agreed that this was the best course of action for the time being.

We turned around and started to slowly walk back. It seemed like the right decision because the shower rain quickly changed to heavy purring, and we needed to be very careful on our way back not to slip down.

Lunch, coffee and a short walk

Eventually, we went back to the “basecamp”, and we went straight to the restaurant, just to find out that all places were already taken and it was super busy. Fortunate, after a few minutes, one small spot got available, and we were able to sit.
The waitress informed us we couldn’t order from the usual menu, we could only order some special lunch. I guessed they were busy, and the “special” lunch was just easy to cook. The problem was that everything was in German, she could not explain what it is that we were to order, and the mobile internet was not working.

I requested something kid-friendly (by pointing at my son), and I ordered something for me (by choosing a random item from the menu). It turned it was not the best choice, as half of my dish was cold by design. To cheer up, we ordered a hot fruit tea and pretzels πŸ₯¨.
After a good meal, our morale improved. Now, we were sitting, and joking about things we saw in another mountain a couple of days before and observing heavy rain passing the place where we were eating.

Hiking in the Alps during a thunderstorm | The cloud
The cloud was passing and was almost touching that mountain with its belly.

When it finally stopped raining, we went for a short walk down the hill and then back to the station. We then sat on a bench and were observing the storm on the opposite mountain. The cloud was passing and was almost touching that mountain with its belly. We could also see clearly where it was already raining and where it was not yet.

Sunk cost fallacy

I also noticed that this cloud is going towards us, so I suggested the final leg stretch and to go back to the cable car and to our car park downstairs. It was one of the best decisions of the day. When we were in the cable car, it started raining cats and dogs. I thought for a moment that they would stop the cable car altogether.

Fortunately for us, we were able to safely make it to the lowest station and then to our car. We were already inside the car when it started raining so heavily that my screen wipers, running on the fastest gear, were not able to deal with the amount of water on the windscreen. I decided to stop and to have a break for another meal. We talked about our decision, and how grateful we were to be safely in our car and not somewhere in the middle of the trail in the mountains.

It was raining until the end of the day. We killed some time watching the Batman Lego movie, drying our clothes and enjoying our company. Yes, we missed the beautiful mountain trip. Yet, we were there together, happy to be safe and grateful for another lesson that we learned today. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to to give up or pivot. Even when you invested time, energy and money in some plans, projects or initiatives. Hiking in the Alps during a thunderstorm is one of them.

Sometimes, it is good to give up, even what you invested time, energy and even money in some plans, projects or initiatives. Click To Tweet

Implementation to the business β˜•οΈπŸŽ“

There is actually the term for our lesson from that day. It is called the sunk cost fallacy.

Individuals commit the sunk cost fallacy when they continue a behaviour or endeavour as a result of previously invested resources (time, money or effort) (Arkes & Blumer, 1985).

It may manifest in a variety of choices, topics that things that we do:

  • You buy a ticket to the cinema, you realise the movie is rubbish, but instead of saving some time and just going back home, you watch it to the end.
  • You invented a product, you think it is a great idea, so you invest in it. Iterate on the version, burning money and resources on it. The market and early customer trials show that it will not fly. But yet you already spent all that money.
  • You took many courses to get the industry recognisable certification. Then, you started a dream job, just to realised this is not what you want to do for a living. You invested so much money, time and effort that you just sit there doing nothing to change it.

The list can go on and on. It is good to pause and try to see a bigger picture. I recommend to watch some fascinating story about Instagram. It shows the practical example of the opposite of the sunk cost fallacy and power of pivoting in the crucial moment.

For us, on our high mountain adventure, it was the realisation that we are on a bigger journey. Sometimes, it is good to have the ultimate goal in mind and perform some exercises that I proposed in the post about the real deadline.

At the end of the day, we were grateful to be together and in a safe place. We were getting ready for another part of our trip. We were about to learn some leadership lessons from a visit to the … zoo.

Thanks for reading!

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