I have the fortune of meeting a fellow author recently, Brad Borkan, for a meeting of minds, to discuss our literature journeys, which I must say was incredibly enjoyable.
We discussed many subjects but importantly our personal thoughts and experiences across resilience and overcoming adversity.
Adversity of any magnitude should make us stronger and fill us with life’s wisdom, however, art in any form is born from adversity, I wrote ‘Freedom after the Sharks’ from adversity and set up a business in the double dip of 2008 and 2009, many people have done the same and it is almost a universal theme in the lives of many of the world’s most eminent creative minds.
For artists who have struggled with physical and mental illness, parental loss during childhood, social rejection, heartbreak, abandonment, abuse, and other forms of trauma, creativity often becomes an act of turning difficulty and challenge into opportunity.
As Eckhart Tolle once said:
“Whenever something negative happens to you, there is a deep lesson concealed within it.”
Much of the music we listen to, the plays we see, the books we read, and the paintings we look at among other forms of performing art are attempts to find meaning in human suffering.
Art seeks to make sense of everything from life’s potentially smallest moments of sadness to its most earth-shattering tragedies. You have heard the statement ‘there is a book in everyone’ we all experience and struggle with suffering.
Determination, resilience, and persistence are the enabler for people to push past their adversities and prevail. Overcoming adversity is one of our main challenges in life. When we resolve to confront and overcome it, we become expert at dealing with it and consequently triumph over our day-to-day struggles.
Today I have the pleasure of introducing another Guest Blogger, Brad Borkan, who works in SAP Strategic Partner Marketing. He has a graduate degree in Decision Sciences from the University of Pennsylvania. Brad co-authored the book, “When Your Life Depends on It: Extreme Decision Making Lessons from the Antarctic”. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and lectures internationally on early Antarctic exploration and its relevance to modern-day decision making. His website is: www.extreme-decisions.com.
Brad is going to discusses with us today “Pivot from Your Goal for Greater Success:”
One of the five key lessons from the early Antarctic Explorers
Have you ever been in a situation where you are so close to achieving your goal, you can almost taste it? With just a bit more effort, luck and perseverance you can get there, but there is high risk and danger along the way. At what point do you push through and at what point do you determine that the risk is too great and turn back?
This was the dilemma facing Ernest Shackleton on January 8th 1909. Shackleton was leading a team of three other men: Jameson Adams, Eric Marshall, and Frank Wild. Their aim: to be the first to get to the South Pole.
As described in my book, When Your Life Depends on It: Extreme Decision Making Lessons from the Antarctic, this was the first Antarctic expedition under Shackleton’s command. In the style at the time, Shackleton named it the Nimrod Expedition, using the name of the ship in which he and his men sailed to Antarctica. The Nimrod Expedition had taken years to plan and everything hinged on this one life-and-death decision.
By January 8th Shackleton, Adams, Marshall and Wild had been on the ice for two and a half months, man-hauling a heavy sledge containing all their equipment: food, cooking oil, tent, sleeping bags and other gear necessary for survival across 750 miles of dangerous terrain in sub-zero temperatures. They were totally on their own; the only communication was as far as they could shout. However they were nearing their goal.
In that era, there was no understanding of nutrition, calories, vitamins or the causes of scurvy. Shackleton and his men knew they were running desperately low of food and were subsisting on starvation rations. While there were some depots of food and supplies they could pick up on their return journey, there was a substantial risk they could die on the way back trying to reach one of those depots.
Yet the South Pole was tantalizingly close. One hundred and three miles to go to attain the biggest, unclaimed, land-based prize on Earth – the first to the South Pole. It would guarantee their names in the record books forever. A bit of luck with the weather and snow conditions, fewer rations, a bit more effort each day — surely goals this big deserved some risk. As goal-driven human beings, wouldn’t we all want to go for the goal, regardless of the consequences?
Yet, amazingly, Shackleton turned back.
What he did before turning back is one of the great lessons from the “Heroic Age” of Antarctic exploration. He told Adams, Marshall and Wild that on January 9th they would leave the tent, sleeping bags and all other supplies behind and walk South as far as they could in one day, plant the flag, and turn back to their camp. Then the next day they would begin the long and treacherous journey home. Why did Shackleton do this? Why not just turn and head back immediately? They all knew the return journey would be risky.
The answer is: Shackleton wanted to cross the 100 mile mark. He wanted to go back to England with a prize. Maybe not the prize, but getting to within 100 miles of the South Pole sounded a whole lot better than either: (1) achieving the South Pole and starving to death on the return journey or (2) getting back alive with only have reached the 103 mile mark. In a letter to his wife Emily about the decision, Shackleton wrote, “I thought you would rather have a live donkey than a dead lion.”
He and his team did almost starve to death on the return journey. Remarkably, they did survive and upon his return, Shackleton wrote a two-volume book about the expedition called, “The Heart of the Antarctic”. He didn’t dwell on failure. He celebrated success — pivoting from his initial goal, and achieving a memorable landmark — the farthest South.
So why is this an important lesson for today’s business leaders? Because it is exceedingly difficult to turn away from one’s goal. It is difficult for a business to do it, and even more difficult for goal-driven businessperson to do it.
Business schools teach us that:
“Goal attainment = Success”
“Success = Goal Attainment”
Yet, this is not always the case. Businesses can be so goal driven that they do not see the big obstacles in their way. Take the case of Blockbuster. Their goal was to dominate the high street of every US and UK city and town, and they were achieving that. They were on such a tear, that in 1989, a new Blockbuster video rental store was being opened every 17 hours! In the early 2000’s Netflix was offered to Blockbuster for $50 million. Why should Blockbuster turn away from their goal of high street dominance? Goal attainment was so tantalizingly close.
We all know what happened to Blockbuster and Netflix. Had Blockbuster taken the Shackleton goal-assessment approach – that survival is more important than goal attainment — they may have survived, just like Shackleton and his men did, to live to see another day.
Shackleton’s next expedition, the Endurance Expedition, also didn’t achieve its goals. Again he had to pivot from his primary goal. Yet it propelled Shackleton to even greater fame, success and glory. It also revealed compelling lessons for modern business decision making. We will save that story for the subject of another blog.