Creative Innovation 2019 (Ci2019)

What can Entrepreneurs learn from Expeditioners?

Thursday, 5 March 2015

I have been lucky enough to do a few adventure trips over the years, trekking through the Kali Gandaki gorge in Nepal, climbing to the top of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, scaling the Middle Sister in Sydney’s Blue Mountains and completing 2,400kms walking across France and Spain on the Camino de Santiago. I was fortunate enough to play a support role in the Shackleton Epic expedition in Antarctica in 2013, led by my former colleague Tim Jarvis AM.

I have also been involved as an investor and CEO in creating, growing, selling and merging several businesses in diverse sectors from digital media to environmental sustainability, concrete reinforcement, creative agency, management consulting and IT services.

Now I am collaborating with Justin Jones, aka Jonesy, a professional adventurer who has completed several amazingly challenging expeditions with his mate Cas. In 2012 he completed the longest unsupported polar expedition of all time, walking from the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole and back over 89 gruelling days and 2275km in the harshest environment on Earth. Four years earlier he and Cas paddled 3318km without assistance across the Tasman Sea for another world first.

On top of that he’s been lucky enough to create two documentaries that have been featured on networks in almost every country on the globe and have won 16 International Film Festival awards. Apart from planning his next expedition he is currently in high demand on the speaking circuit linking the lessons learnt from 15 years of expeditions to business across the world.

We are working together to combine our experiences from the engine room to the boardroom of business and the frontline of extreme expeditions. We’ve come up with nine ‘Golden Rules’ for Entrepreneurs and Expeditioners that apply equally well in the adventure of business – and the business of adventure.

It might seem strange that our lessons learned should be so closely aligned. But let’s take a look at the context of both roles.

Expeditioners aim to:

  • Do something incredibly challenging and highly original
  • Come back alive, while taking risks most people would never dream of
  • Have fun doing it, despite the pain and suffering that comes with the territory
  • Win financial support from sponsors, while inevitably putting their own financial future at stake
  • Learn more about themselves and the limits of their physical and mental capability and endurance in the process.

Entrepreneurs aim to:

  • Bring their passion to creating a new product or service the world needs
  • Work as hard as they can at bringing their offering to market, learning fast and adapting on the fly as endless obstacles are struck and overcome
  • Have fun and keep up the spirits of their team, despite the heavy toll of long hours and deflating setbacks
  • Raise money from early investors, who typically insist the entrepreneur commits all their ‘hurt money’ first
  • Be the best leader they can be, developing their strategic, financial, marketing, cultural and operational capabilities on the fly, building a team that can cover his or her blind spots.

Believe it or not, the process of building a successful start-up looks and feels a lot like planning and executing a (typically) crazy expedition. Whether you are launching an expedition idea that seems to defy the limits of human endurance, or building a new business that challenges existing market orthodoxy, you need to achieve a small miracle: creating something from nothing. In the face of limited funding, fierce competition, scarce resources, daunting challenges, noisy naysayers and an uncertain, harsh environment, success is only ever hard won at considerable personal cost and risk.

The Golden Rules

Based on our shared experience, Jonesy and I offer these Golden Rules to both Entrepreneurs and Expeditioners alike:

  1. Get clear on your true purpose: when times get tough, it’s your ‘Why’ that will guide you through. It’s your ‘Why’ that sponsors and funders need to get behind, and it’s the cause your team will enroll in. You can’t fake your ‘Why”, you have to truly believe it if you want anyone else to.
  2. 100% Commitment: You can’t fake it; no one will follow a leader that doesn’t truly, madly, deeply believe in their ideals, their own product or expedition. You have to be willing to be the first person to jump in the deep, taking the lead before you can expect anyone to follow.
  3. Be willing to adapt: Focusing on your outcomes, and the milestones you have mapped out along the way, improvise intelligently in the face of obstacles. Tinkering, trial and error, risk-controlled experimentation – all have their place in edging your way ahead.
  4. Don’t sit still: An old CEO of mine had a favourite saying, “losers mistake hope for action”. Movement in any direction is better than being stuck. Rolling back a product update, retreating from a peak that cannot be safely descended, sustain your sense of purpose and summon your strength for another go.
  5. Maintain your composure: In the pleasure of your own company, maybe it’s OK to lose it. But in the presence of your customers, your team, your backers and the world at large, don’t let them see you sweat. Your cool, calculating, committed self is the best person for the toughest situations, not an angry, screaming mess.
  6. Preparation, preparation, preparation: War gaming yourself with all of the things that can and will go wrong is invaluable. Investing the time to research and understand the risk environment you are venturing into, and building mitigation plans to maintain your resilience, will often be the difference between life and death, success or insolvency.
  7. Beware the Black Swan: Rarely is the reason for a business or an expedition to fail any one event. It is the culmination of several events, which alone would have been manageable, adding up to a black swan event – a catastrophic failure of the system. If multiple layers of redundancies exist for key equipment, people and processes, then the ability to deal with the Black Swan event if it arises will be within your reach.
  8. Hold on to your big ideas: They are the currency of your future. While you can often only execute them one at a time, it’s the possibility your ideas for the future hold that can inspire and fuel your efforts today.
  9. Don’t worry about your gaps, focus on filling them: You’ll never have 100% of every skill and capability you need. Be honest about where your edges are; ask others to highlight your blind spots. Find like-spirited people who think different, act different and will make the difference as part of your team.

Jonesy and I have enjoyed the process of sharing our experiences in the worlds of business and adventure. We’ve recognised we can both learn a lot from each context, and that many of the tools and tactics we have gathered can be potent assets in both.

In this video you will get a taste of some of the ground we will cover in our Master Class at Creative Innovation 2015 – Business Growth: A leadership journey.

It illustrates the harsh and unforgiving environments that we need to navigate as leaders in expeditions and business. You’ll see some of the pain and difficulty Justin endured whilst putting his life on the line during his world-first Antarctic and Trans-Tasman expeditions. You’ll re-live the personal and financial carnage that Steve has seen first-hand through Black Monday in London in 1987, the dotcom crash of 2001 and of course the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, through which he helped steer companies to success in the face of business-threatening times. By linking lessons from the business world, approached with an expedition mindset, where every move could literally be your last, Steve and Justin will share their insights into how to deal with uncertainty.

In these tough spots, what do you do when you don’t know what to do, and the team is looking at you for answers?

In our session at Ci2015 on the 23rd of March, we’ll work through case studies from both of Jonesy’s big expeditions and Steve’s 20 years of consulting. Beyond the Golden Rules, we’ll analyse the 7 stages of a company’s growth cycle, an expedition and what the leader’s role is at each of the stages.

When you walk out, you’ll have a better understanding of which stages you will be highly suited to as a leader and where you’ll need to rely on a strong, supportive leadership team. With imagery and anecdotes taken from the frontline of two of the biggest expeditions undertaken this century; it’ll be a day that’ll provoke thought into what makes good leaders tick.

Grab your tickets (just $250) here: Ci2015 registration

About Ci2015


Ci2015 will feature over 40 global leaders, innovators and thinkers and deliver world-class creative ideas and pragmatic solutions. It will offer credible forecasts, strategies and practices to help transform you and the leadership of organisations. Join big and small business, educators, entrepreneurs, creative and government leaders, emerging talent and leading thinkers from around the World.


Steve Lennon is a strategy, business transformation, and culture management expert. As client and consultant, banker and borrower, CEO and corporate coach he has built, bought and sold several businesses, and buried one or two as well. Steve is a Consulting Principal with Fujitsu and the author of “It’s A Dog’s Job”, a cheeky, mad-dog look at the world of management consulting. Fujitsu is Japan’s leading global IT services firm, focused on human-centric innovation.

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