Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Shackleton's Survival Skills: Risk Taking

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Shackleton's Survival Skills: Risk Taking

Article excerpt

This is the final installment in a series on British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton's epic story of courage and survival in the Antarctic -- and the lessons we modern captains of capitalism can learn from Shackleton's survival skills.

What kind of man would head up the first expedition to attempt a crossing of the Antarctic continent? What kind of person would leave home and family and a comfortable lifestyle to brave and bear bitter cold below the Antarctic Circle? What apt adjective describes the soul and character of one who raises money from strangers to explore a strange continent for the mere purpose of seeing what's there? What kind of man, what kind of person, what apt adjective?

Risk taker.

Sir Earnest Shackleton was, above all else, a risk taker, and it is this quality that enabled him to survive the Antarctic entombment that trapped him and his crew for 22 months. It is also the quality that will enable us to survive the cold corporate culture in which we live.

The dictionary defines risk as "the chance of injury, damage or loss; dangerous chance; hazard." But such negative nattering would never have come from the mouth of Shackleton. More likely he would have defined risk the way the Chinese symbol for risk does -- combining the elements of "danger" and "opportunity." For Shackleton, risk was not a negative -- it was a chance for adventure.

But risk taking was more than mere male muscle flexing for Shackleton. It was the key to survival during the long Antarctic winter. From the time their ship, the Endurance, was crushed by ice floes and sank, to the time Shackleton walked the last few steps to safety, he was calculating and taking risks to preserve his life and those of his men.

It was a calculated risk that led Shackleton to rally his men to drag life rafts across frozen craggy ground in a futile attempt to hike to safety. It was a calculated risk that prompted Shackleton to construct Patience Camp on a floating ice floe and await a change in conditions when hiking failed. It was a calculated risk that urged Shackleton to eventually launch the life rafts into an icy, angry sea in a last-gasp effort to make it to solid land. And, ultimately, it was careful and calculating risk-taking that launched Shackleton's tiny life raft a second time in his final voyage to link up with civilization on faraway South Georgia Island.

Once they left the ice floe, Shackleton's crew traveled in life rafts to Elephant Island, not far from the Antarctic Circle. This bleak little stretch of land offered temporary respite but no permanent rescue. Shackleton soon determined a second boat ride would be necessary to save his men. He and a small group would launch out a second time and attempt to cross more than 800 miles of wild and wide-open sea in an effort to land at South Georgia Island, where there was a whaling station. …

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