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Endurance

First of all, as you might have already understood: we’re moving into the summer season and my blogging will probably be less frequent. The garden needs some constant handling. It’s almost like handling technical debt: you think that you’ve fixed something but next time you go back you can see that the weed has already started growing.

But I need to tell the story of Endurance. Sometimes the truth is so much amazing than real life and in which case is this more telling than the story of Endurance.

Imagine it’s 1914. WWI has just started. You are heading to the south pole to cross the continent on foot. Crazy is just the Christian name but this was Ernest Schackleton and this was the age of exploration. Almost like the IT bubble era but instead of building strange web sites people went to distant areas of the world. In both cases a lot of money was lost but the age of exploration also resulted in many lives lost in the Arctic ice.

Schackleton and his crew took their ship to the Antarctic but got caught in the ice and had to spend the Arctic winter on their boats. This was a amazing thing in itself but it was nothing compared to what was to come.

You might have thought that the summer would bring bliz but when it became warmer, the ice broke and with it, the ship broke too. So now they were on the ice, with just small boats. Far from everywhere. And no; there were no IPhones.

From Wikipedia: The end of Endurance and some time on the ice

Finally, after many hardship, they reached Elephant island, but this was an uninhabited island and they were 1300 kilometers open sea from habited land. They only had small life boats and winter was closing in again. It was an open sea trip in the worst conditions in the world. Add to this; they had survived on the ice for many months with almost no supplies.

Ernest Schackleton did not cross the Antarctic, but he gave us this amazing story and showed some traits which are desirable for any project manager. I will not here tell the end to the story but as you might have guessed, there were survivors.

So, which were the traits? I recommend you reading the book yourselves, but I would like to point out some interesting findings which I found especially intriguing:

  1. Endurance. This was the name of one of the ships, but also an important trait. Schackleton would not accept failure and death.
  2. Change of objectives when the objective became unreachable. Schackleton changed the objective when he couldn’t reach the goals. Instead of giving up, he picked the next important thing.
  3. No sentiment when it came to priorities. When it stood between death and a valued item, Schackleton picked what ever would keep them alive. But he also realized that social aspects were also important. A banjo and a deck of cards were kept while almost everything else got discarded since these items were important for the social knitting and to keep off boredom.
  4. Same rules applied to managers. When Schackleton told the guys that they needed to throw away everything, he pulled out a bible which he had received from the queen. He tore out the page with her dedication and threw away the rest, stating that only what could not be shed was to be shed.
  5. No hiding from possible conflicts. Schackleton identified trouble makers and depressed party members and took them into his own tent. He felt it was better that he could keep and eye on these than that they would poison everyone.

The day and age of the great explorers ended almost 100 years ago, but these traits with a leader seem endless.

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Categories: Leadership
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