​Character Traits: Hannah Lee on Climbing and Collaboration

At Doblin, we show up as whole humans, embracing and celebrating each of our unique experiences, eccentricities and vulnerabilities. The authenticity of our people is one of our greatest assets, one which helps us connect more deeply with our community and our clients. Designer Hannah Lee kicks off the "Character Traits" series by finding connections in her motivations for both climbing and our work.

As a kid I was determinedly nonathletic, refusing to join team sports and proudly boycotting gym class. Now, three nights a week I find myself at a dusty, chalked up rock wall teaching and convincing others that they too, can hang by two fingers from a dubiously bolted piece of plastic.

Physically, climbing is a ridiculous hobby. Dangling 60ft in the air from ropes and over-engineered bits of metal contraptions is more than a little contrived. There are several types of climbing, each with its own degree of absurdity—from performing crazy contortions a few feet above the ground to hacking at frozen waterfalls with spiked shoes and medieval weapons.

But the benefits of climbing go far beyond physical fitness, and recently I realized that the reasons I climb are similar to my motivations for working at Doblin. Whether I'm armed with post-it notes or painfully tight (and smelly) shoes, I'm working with others to deconstruct a complex problem and find an elegant solution, while forming close relationships along the way.

Climbing is refreshingly satisfying because it marries the physical with the cerebral. As athletic as it appears, the sport actually relies on problem solving and strategy. Whether set by Mother Nature or a fellow climber, each route is a puzzle to solve with different techniques of body movements in order to reach the top. It takes laser focus to work out precise placements of hands and feet before attempting your move. Discipline, ingenuity, and humility (plus a little bit of blind faith) will take you much further than physical prowess. Likewise, at Doblin we deal with some pretty gnarly problems in complex environments. But we don’t muscle our way through them—it’s a delicate dance and more often than not, the way to the finish isn’t as direct as we assume.

The best part of climbing is that I don't have to solve these problems alone. There are typically other people trying the same route and we always team up—even as total strangers. Everyone takes a pass and with each attempt, the whole group solves a little more of the problem. We become an impromptu team that leverages each person’s strengths. You don’t necessarily need to be tall, short, young, or old to be a great climber, so each individual has something to contribute and teach to the others. There’s always an appreciation for creativity and different perspectives in solving the problem.

Discipline, ingenuity, and humility (plus a little bit of blind faith) will take you much further than physical prowess.

The need for teamwork is reflected in the climbing community as a whole. Climbing isn’t a team sport but in a sense, the entire community is your team. When I meet another climber there’s immediate solidarity—we unironically dissolve into jargon of favorite moves, gear we plan to buy, and routes we hope to climb someday, to the bewilderment and eye rolls of everyone in the vicinity. My coworkers have their own jargon (one of design principles and precursors) but the earnest enthusiasm is the same. Both groups are filled with quirky, empathetic people who are constantly teaching and learning from each other, trading ‘beta’ for the best practices and approaches.

Over time, many collaborations build a deep sense of camaraderie. When you climb or work with someone long enough, you start to have each other’s backs–under all circumstances. Whether it’s prepping for a workshop at the eleventh hour or keeping each other from falling to our deaths, high-stakes situations require candid communication and total trust. But it’s also the rest of it—the downtime conversations at the crag or coffee breaks between interviews—that lead to the best work and eureka moments. The memories that stick with me aren’t of leading a spicy 5.11b with a run-out or knocking the socks off that client who’s notoriously never impressed—they’re of the encouragement, perspective, and reassurance I received in tough moments to achieve those accomplishments.

The calluses and view from the top are just icing on the cake.