Success in the world of business requires many of the same skills as success in the world of outdoor adventure. We can speak to this because we do both. Kevin has been pushing the limits in the adventure world for more than two decades and has been recognized as one of Canada’s leading explorers. He also runs a successful architectural design practice and works as a leadership mentor and author. Amy is a management consultant and neuroscience expert but also a paraglider pilot and avid adventurer. We understand adventuring and we understand business, and the two are a lot closer than you think.
The wild wisdom we’ve accrued over the years as adventurers has not only helped us in these challenging pursuits but has been remarkably applicable as business professionals as well. The strong correlation between the two has been an epiphany that we’re eager to share. Still, many people, on hearing our thoughts, often doubt their association. This doubt, we believe, is founded on myths that we intend to debunk.
Myth 1: Adventurers take huge risks
One of the most common assumptions people make about outdoor adventurers is that they take unfettered blind risk in most situations that life presents. Wrong. Adventurers take calculated risk. Just like in business, overcoming big challenges in adventure requires detailed analysis and risk mitigation. Adventure by definition is risky, and an adventurer must face that risk. The successful adventurer who routinely navigates risk and doesn’t succumb to it demonstrates not only a strong capacity to deal with the risk, but also an expert ability to mitigate it. Adventurers take risks, but they do so wisely.
Myth 2: Adventurers go it alone
The theory goes that adventurers are alone in their struggles, are on a personal quest, and are pitted against the elements. Nothing could be further from the truth. Behind that ice-encrusted balaclava is a support crew of sponsors, planners, PR professionals, physicians, friends, family, and fellow adventurers without which the quest could never succeed. By creating a diverse team with varied skills behind them, adventurers provide themselves the best opportunity to perform. As in business, you have a better chance of success when you embrace the expertise of your team.
Myth 3: Adventurers are adrenaline junkies
Watch any YouTube video featuring an “extreme athlete” and you’ll see the archetype of a pumped-up adrenaline-fueled machismo on full tilt. Similar to leadership tropes of the command-and-control business leader, this narrative persists in pockets, but nearly all successful adventurers take a balanced approach in their pursuits. As the saying goes, “There are old adventurers and there are bold adventurers, but there are no old, bold adventurers.” In some instances, adventurers need to rise to the occasion to perform in a perilous situation, but most of the time they present a calm presence when attempting to sort out a difficult or perplexing challenge. We can all benefit from a mindset like this. Train yourself to stay cool under pressure.
Myth 4: Adventurers are “one-trick ponies”
This is one myth in particular that I wish to dispel. It flies in the face of everything I do. I believe an ability to be agile and balanced in every aspect of your life is critical for success. As an architect, a leadership mentor, a keynote speaker, a writer, a husband, and a father of two teenage girls, along with having carved out a respectable niche in the adventure world and breaking the world record to the South Pole in 2009, I feel strongly that I’ve performed well in all of the disciplines I pursue not in spite of all of the others, but because of them.
You need balance in life to perform in life. As leaders, so many of us lead lives without this level of intention, allowing the day-to-day hectic nature of business to drive our reactions instead of applying thoughtful planning around personal sustainability. Being intentional with how you spend your time and priorities in order to be more agile can create a more well-rounded life. Balance your life and thrive in all your pursuits.
Myth 5: Adventurers are invincible
Adventurers who accomplish arduous goals often appear invincible in their efforts. But the romanticized image that this myth produces is essentially imaginary. Great leaders, be it in adventuring or in business, have carried out remarkable accomplishments, but they are still human at their core.
Ernest Shackleton is one such leader and adventurer who embodies transcendent characteristics and who, on the surface, seems invincible. Shackleton is celebrated as one of the greatest explorers of all time with his astonishing story of survival in the Southern Ocean on his failed expedition. Because of his perseverance and resourcefulness, he is hailed as the archetype of gallant and effective leadership. The fact Shackleton had a nervous breakdown while organizing the rescue of his men on Elephant Island during this ordeal is far removed from the narrative surrounding Shackleton and has been all but erased from the history books. I feel strongly that it should be celebrated.
Shackleton’s nervous breakdown simply speaks to his humanity and suggests a more astonishing personality than we first thought. The fact that the great Sir Ernest Shackleton is fallible, just like the rest of us, is reassuring. But that he was also able to rebound and succeed is truly inspiring. It suggests that Shackleton’s equally impressive characteristics—all very human, too—are accessible to us all. All great adventurers, like all great leaders, are flesh and blood. Like them, we can all aspire to and learn to be our best.
Don’t allow these myths to hold you back. Embrace an adventurer’s mindset and push the limits of performance in business and in all aspects of your life.
Amy Posey and Kevin Vallely are coauthors of Wild Success: 7 Key Lessons Business Leaders Can Learn from Extreme Adventures. They combine insights from the adventure, business, and neuroscience domains to provide powerful and effective leadership lessons. Learn more at www.morewildsuccess.com.