I was at Big Bear ski resort when I learned the proper way to get on a chair lift for three. Line up at the first red line; wait for the chair to swing around in front; and then do the quick shuffle walk up to the second red line. The next chair will gently scoop up all three of you for your ride up the mountain. It sounds simple, right?
I lined up with Dorothy on my left and John on my right. When the operator told us to go, John got a late start. Dorothy and I got up to the line in time, but John got there at the last second, bumping me two feet forward. He also unintentionally stepped on the back of my skis, preventing me from moving myself back to the line. All I could do was wobble like a floor-mounted punching bag.
The next chair came swooping around the wheel. I twisted my body around at the last second as the edge of the chair hit me in the thighs. The best I could do was grab on to the back of the chair behind John. I ended up face down in his lap, with my back side facing uphill and my legs dangling below the chair… what you might call a compromising position.
John figured I was just goofing around and laughed hysterically while I was holding on for dear life. I tried to pull myself up into the seat, but I wasn’t strong enough with my heavy skis and boots hanging below. And the lift kept going higher and higher.
My life was in the hands of a minimum-wage lift-operator who surely took this job so he could meet chicks, snowboard for free, and use the word “dude” as a pronoun, adjective and verb. I learned later that he was oblivious to my predicament because he was chatting up a snow bunny in a pink fuzzy headband and tight pants to match. A full 30 seconds went by before someone in the crowd had the presence of mind to scream “Stop the lift!”
So here’s the situation. I’m dangling roughly 25 feet in the air over a hard-packed icy surface below. My mind started racing. Nobody on the ground seemed to have a clue what to do, and there’s nothing in the employee training manual about this one.
John and Dorothy tried but couldn’t pull me up, so I figured I would have to get down somehow. I wanted to be as close to the ground as possible if I let go, so I went hand over hand to the side of the chair. I worked my way down to the bottom of the metal frame until I was hanging like the cat on a tree branch in that “HANG ON” motivational poster.
I managed to unlatch and kick off one ski but the other was so iced up it wouldn’t come off. Great… that should provide just enough torque to twist my leg off when I hit the ground. I was mentally preparing to let go, as the crowd began to throw out ideas about what to do.
“Reverse the lift and lower him back to the ground!” Well apparently this type of lift only goes forward and up.
“Catch him in a blanket!” (I’ve see clowns do this in the circus, and it doesn’t end well for the jumper.) I was starting to lose my grip and imagining myself making a perfect little Wile E.Coyote-shaped hole in the ice below.
Someone shouted something to the effect of “Hey, let’s form a human ladder and help him down!” That’s when the operator experienced his a-ha moment, “A ladder! Dude, go get the ladder!!”
There was a brand new extension ladder, still in the box, leaning up against the lodge nearby. As my hands were starting to lose their grip, they ripped the new ladder out of the cardboard and hoisted it up under me, allowing me to climb down safely. Ordinarily I enjoy a hearty round of applause, but this time it made me want to crawl into a snow cave.
The point of the story is about how the solution was finally found in a crisis. It was crowd-sourced under stress, in an environment where any idea was welcome because the authorities did not have a clue. One seemingly dumb idea led to the idea that brought me down safely.
So the next time your team is brainstorming, I encourage you to make sure everyone gets a chance to speak. One idea does lead to another.