When Your Life Depends on It

Review by Andrew Leigh

Brad Borkan and David Hirzel, Terra Nova Press 
(ISBN 978-1-945312-05-2)

This excellent book, draws valuable and memorable lessons for business from the early 20th Century Antarctic explorers. .

Filled with gripping talks of daring-do and bravery, powerful story-telling vividly brings to life the experience of the explorers, all of whom often faced seemingly impossible choices. These included: who to leave behind in the interests of group survival;  how to save yourself rather than give up and die; when to change the goal and adapt; how to reframe one’s original goal and let go of impossible odds, and many other tough decisions.

Not all the heroes acted impeccably and “did the right thing”. For example, Amundsen the Norwegian explorer was originally aiming for the North Pole, until he learned someone else had already got there first.

Redefining his goal as the South Pole instead, Amundsen sent a cursory telegram to Robert Scott the British explorer. He said that he too now intended to go South. They few brief words showed they were now in a race to be first. As we know, The Norwegian won.

Yet the lesson here is that Scott’s focus and his his personal tragedy of dying in the attempt, had far more impact on scientific discovery—his ultimate purpose. There are many reasons to criticise Scott, but “doing the right thing” is certainly not one of them.

Oates, Bowers, Scott, Wilson, Evans

This is a page turner of a book which is hard to put down. It has valuable lessons for all business leaders, especially those wrestling with what it means to be ethical in the business environment. After the extended and often gripping story-telling the authors summarise seven key lessons to be drawn from the experience of the explorers. Each has relevance for business leaders wanting to act ethically and make the right decisions, even when facing the unknown.

  1. Meet every decision head on—no matter how tough the circumstances, all those from the heroic age expeditions confronted decisions as they met them; they didn’t procrastinate and they didn’t wallow in self pity
  • Make the best of a bad decision—they made lots of bad decisions but remarkably recovered thanks to sheer grit and determination

  • Engage others on your team—they did not see it as weakness to ask others for their advice

  • Inspiration can come from unexpected places—looking outside your immediate circumstances for inspiration can be a big help

  • Never, ever give up (my favourite!)—they faced so many situation where they could have given up—but never did. Many felt the call of a higher purpose

  • Reframe what success looks like—sometime fate has a way of preventing you from achieving your goal but gives you an opportunity to reframe it

  • When all else fails, bad luck descends, and the end is truly in sight, how do you act nobly?—these explorers gave it their best shot and acted nobly right to the end.

When Your Life Depends on It proves entertaining, with that essential feel of authenticity that makes the difference between yet another leadership tome, and one that stands out as worthy of any leader’s previous time.

Brad Borkan and David Hirzel, Terra Nova Press 
ISBN 978-1-945312-05-2)

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