Completing the journey by yourself is not the goal, the entire experience becomes elevated with a tribe all striving to complete it together.
I don't know how many of you are familiar with rock climbing? Not that I'm an expert but I'm fascinated by the sport and I wish I grew up in an area that actually had rocks or even hills for that matter, but that wasn't the case as I grew up in the flatlands of Illinois! I was a natural climber and climbed as much stuff as I could but I was mostly limited to trees, buildings and structures. You might say I'm a climbing buff and fascinated by guys who do this professionally.
What I want to discuss and hopefully relate to what we do is known as the "crux" in the climbing world. The "crux" is how the most difficult passage of a climbing route is defined. On some climbs the "crux" may take multiple attempts and in some cases even years of focused planning and training just to overcome.
I don't know if anyone followed the epic climb of El Capitan's "Dawn Wall" by Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson; this is considered by all experts as the most difficult free climb on the Planet! It took them years of preparation and training to even attempt it. Their training consisted of small, very technical climbs to teach them the discipline and nuances of their craft. I don't even know how to explain what these guys do but they're literally climbing up a smooth piece of granite with razor thin finger and foot holds the thickness of a dime in some sections. Unreal!
They trained by doing long climbs with multiple pitches (a pitch is basically a section of an overall climb that consists of one section of rope; typical rope lengths are between 50m and 80m so one pitch would be somewhere less than one piece of rope). The rope is only used to stop them from falling to their death; it's not used for climbing. These long climbs taught them the right pace and tenacity that they'd need to tackle the toughest climb known to man. Tommy had actually climbed other routes on El Capitan for training to complete the most challenging route known as the "Dawn Wall".
The process starts by laying out a route and climbing individual sections to find the best way to the top. "Dawn Wall" has 32 pitches and each one has specific challenges. These guys didn't just decide one day to climb it. In fact they climbed up to pitch 12 several times learning each and every time that they climbed.
Their latest attempt started on December 27th. They were prepared for success this time because they'd been on this wall before, they'd put in the years of training, they had the best route laid out, and the timing was right. They chose to do it in winter because the cold rock keeps your hands from sweating; moisture is the enemy for climbing at this level as you can't afford to slip.
They flew through the first 14 pitches, arguably some of the most difficult of the entire climb in only 6 days! As they both accomplished pitch 14 on January 1st it looked like they were gonna make it and people started to pay more attention.
After pitch 14 Tommy Caldwell, the more experienced climber and leader of the journey, continued to complete pitch after pitch up to 20. Kevin his partner, on the other hand, was stuck on 15, for ten days!!!
He continued to fall after each attempt. The rule was if you fell at a specific spot you had to go back down to the start of that specific pitch, remove your rope and start over. He was at his "Crux".
This pitch was taking its toll on him. His body was being destroyed by the rock, the cold temps increased his caloric intake, his partner had moved on without him, and he was losing his mental edge as anyone would after trying unsuccessfully day after day after day. Each day as he stayed at this crux, it opened the possibility for failure as winter storms could come out of nowhere and can last for days. His opportunity for success was figuratively and literally slipping through his bloody fingers.
Tommy was having a mental battle of his own, to go back and assist his partner and potentially ruin his opportunity for completion ... or continue on his own? He knew that the victory wouldn't be the same without his partner, and he was having his own mental "Crux" to deal with.
Then everything lined up for Kevin, the conditions were perfect, his body was ready and his mind was at ease. He completed 15! He was a man on a mission! Reinvigorated by his completion, he caught up to Tommy and they both summited the "Dawn Wall" together as a team.
So, why the rock climbing story?
We've trained for years with our CAC program modifying and tweaking it over the years in preparation for the toughest climb. We laid out the program and chose the optimal route for success to the top of the mountain. The timing is finally right with our marketing, promotions and TV show. We can't afford to slip (ponds done wrong and customers served wrong) as it's bad for the industry.
This first year was undoubtedly the toughest part because we blew up the old model and had everyone start over which wreaked havoc on us all. Once we got into the right rhythm we flew through the first season (14 pitches).
We are now at the "Crux" with the CAC program, the most difficult passage of the route.
Pitch 15 is one of the most difficult pitches of them all and for the CAC program, it's called Exclusivity. This is our crux because in order for the program to grow and for us all to succeed, we need to overcome some big challenges. The longer we stay at the crux it opens us up to potential problems; we lose our mental edge and other challenges may come up compounding the effects which could jeopardize the entire mission. We need to evaluate this challenge and what it stands for and make a decision to continue on our journey. Here are a few of my thoughts in regards to it:
The reason we modified the program and allowed non-exclusive contractors as part of our team is for the diversity and different viewpoints coming from people that use different products and methods. I believed and still do we can all learn from one another. We could tend to get caught up in our own way of doing things and forget about the rest of the pond building industry. Having some sort of connection is very valuable for all parties involved. Ponds done right and customers served right is the only way to keep this industry alive, we need to share best practices for an overall successful customer experience. When we learn of a better way of doing something we adapt it as a group and grow from it.
We are also at a point of growth in which we need more contractors to effectively design, build and maintain the demand for water features coming in from our website. Utilizing anybody that has gone through the necessary training is an easy way for us to take care of consumers effectively. Currently our locator lists contractors within a 100 mile radius of an inquiry. Optimally we want to have enough CAC's to reduce that radius to 50 miles.
The crux of the problem that I've seen and heard about with having non-exclusive CAC's is that it's creating confusion in the marketplace. Since the inception of our program, exclusivity of Aquascape product has been a requirement as it's the only way we can comfortably promote you to potential customers. We changed the exclusivity agreement a year ago for all the aforementioned reasons. We thought this was an effective strategy for us to employ on our route to success but we now have reached a crux in our journey and we need to adjust our route. Consumers that are expecting Aquascape equipment and ideologies may or may not be getting what they are looking for unless they're using an exclusive Professional or Master CAC. We need to correct this for them immediately to maintain the overall integrity of the program and our brand. We know that the most effective strategy for consistent success with water features is by having a systematic approach with the necessary products and processes that work together in unison. This assures the customer the desired end product the contractor the successful and profitable business model, and us a reliable way to service the growing national consumer demand for Aquascape water features.
This is why where at a "Crux." We need to decide what's best in order for us to move forward. The wrong decision will set us back from accomplishing our goal; the right decision will get us one step closer to the summit. I guarantee that this is not the only "Crux" of this journey. It just happens to be the one that's in front of us today and our decision will have an impact in one way or another.
Tommy and Kevin, albeit only two men, had to be on the exact same page with everything from their training regimen, diet, strategy, physical and mental alertness or they wouldn't be able to complete their journey.
Working together to complete the journey.
We, "The CAC Tribe," also need to be on the same page if we want to succeed. Our proposal to get around the crux is to modify our program. We want to still invite all contractors (exclusive or non-exclusive) into our program that are willing to go through the necessary training (online training, hands on builds, surveys, project pictures for evaluation, etc.). The reward for applying is getting to be a part of the strongest tribe in the industry, where we so freely share our passion and knowledge of the business, which ultimately is the Tribes highest value. The reward of consumer leads however will be reserved for those who have become a Professional or Master CAC.
The first year applicants will now be deemed Apprentice Certified Aquascape Contractors. They will be invited to participate on the private CAC Facebook group for up to a year and evaluate if this tribe is indeed right for their business model. We will get to evaluate them as well during this period. Together it is our belief that having an open forum, where people who have all qualified by beginning the required training, will ultimately lead to the strengthening of our Tribe.
At Aquascape we have proven winning formula. But we also feel success is a journey, not a destination. We want to climb higher! It's why we opened up the program in the first place and it's why we find ourselves modifying it today. We are excited about the future and look forward to your continued support and feedback as we strive together for yet another peak!
We're at the "Crux" (the actual definition of crux is, "a cross") in Cabo, coming together as a team to complete our journey...