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Blog : Business lessons from the magnetic North Pole


Business lessons from the magnetic North Pole

By Sally Brand - Business Development Manager 

As a business we regularly attend Room to Read events. The events raise money for education and books in developing countries, as well as offer an opportunity for networking and to listen to inspiring motivational speakers. This month the guest speaker was Sue Stockdale, the first British woman to reach the Magnetic North Pole. 

Sue’s talk focused on helping to recognise and value strengths and weaknesses, cope with change and maintain a positive mindset when the going gets tough. Living in a challenging world, which is constantly in flux, we need to be adaptable. I was therefore intrigued to find out how her lessons from the North Pole could help in business.

We learnt that as part of a group of four people (two of whom she had never met before) Sue completed a dangerous and demanding trip across the icecaps of Greenland. She was aware that, more often than not, it’s people issues which cause a project to fail; not the task itself, so it was imperative that they bonded quickly and understood each others’ motivators and goals. For example one of the team was keen to finish the expedition in just 22-25 days, whilst the others were planning to do it in 30. As they needed to complete the expedition as a team, they had to understand each others’ perspectives and have a shared plan.

Early on in the expedition they faced issues – their sledge broke and a leaking container meant vital fuel was lost. In those situations it was important to remain practical, focused and conserve energy. Challenges are often unavoidable, whether in the North Pole or in business, so it is crucial to retain a sense of humour and honesty and not be afraid of change and innovation. For example, at the beginning of the expedition the group decided to split the sledge weight equally. However, Sue started to struggle with this, causing her and thus the rest of the team to slow down. Although difficult at first, Sue admitted this weakness and the need to put her pride aside and make a change with a positive demeanour for the good of the whole team.

At this stage in the expedition they were also behind time, meaning that they could run out of food. Despite being physically drained they had to travel an extra two miles each day. To keep up motivation Sue reframed the situation. Instead of looking at this as an extra two hours of work per day, she focused on the fact that the travel would still be completed in eight intervals; knowing, in her mind, this was the goal she set out to achieve. Sue stressed the importance of focusing on the positives during these difficult times and so kept a ‘success diary’ (which she still does now) to help spur her and the team on. She also made sure she rewarded herself when hitting key milestones with a treat. These small things helped to keep her on track.

Overall, Sue’s journey reminds us that understanding your motivators, and those of your team mates; keeping the big picture in mind is the key to success. This will enable you to communicate and motivate others with passion and determination giving you an edge, especially when times are tough. And don’t forget to be your true self; as Sue commented ‘survival requires authenticity’.

How have you overcome challenges in business? Is there anything else we can take from Sue’s voyage that could help?

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