What qualities do you think are essential for an explorer to have and how do these qualities translate to business?
A successful explorer has to have good social skills, persistence and a passion for nature. Setting out on expeditions year after year to unknown places, requires a constant development of your skill set, a certain amount of business knowhow to be able to sell your ideas, understanding the logistics, good language skills and be in top physical shape. It requires very high levels of commitment and motivation. It also requires lots of practice, making sure the training sessions are tougher than the actual performance. That way it becomes a routine task, which improves safety substantially.
Being an explorer means having to think about things from different angles and developing new ways of going forward. Stepping into the unknown and conquering new areas requires innovation and a readiness to change and adapt old ways of thinking and doing. In today’s challenging financial situation, this applies to business leaders as well.
“A lot of our actions are limited by barriers we’ve created in our mind, but we can learn to ignore them, because they’re not real. You shouldn’t hold yourself back just because an idea seems impossible at first. We’re doing things today that seemed impossible fifty years ago! Remember that a new idea is never good, unless you share it”.
As a leader on an expedition, I need to gain complete trust between the members. That trust is not gained by speaking. It is gained by your actions. This means we practice our tasks together during a time span of six months before the expedition. Sometimes even longer. The goal is gaining a deep level of teamwork. It doesn´t come overnight or by itself. It is made.
When planning an expedition, it’s crucial to prepare for anything and everything by creating various scenarios. In the planning stages, the team comes up with a long list of ‘what ifs’. Together we prepare, gather information, train and get hold of the right equipment for managing the risks involved. If we can’t find answers to a particular question or cannot decide on appropriate measures, the expedition may prove too risky and end up being cancelled. This has happened to us a couple of times.
“Through practice, anyone can do extraordinary things that are not part of everyday life. Of course, there are always risks involved, but by assessing them, preparing and rehearsing different solutions, the risks diminish radically”
You frequently go out of your comfort zone, exploring and climbing mountains that have never been climbed before. What drives you to keep forging new paths?
Forging new paths is often very challenging, and definitely not boring. I think I would die slowly behind a desk. All expeditions are different, and every project has a beginning and an end. For me, each stage of a project is important – I enjoy the whole journey from the initial idea to returning home at the end.
“You plan and prepare for years, then climb and stand on the mountain top for fifteen minutes before going home. Some might not see the point, but for me it’s about the whole process, rather than just reaching the summit”.
“If a decision is made out of laziness, things will definitely go wrong”. I wrote that on my tent as a reminder after times when we didn’t take tools along because of weight and definitely would’ve needed them. When considering a risky venture, we use nuts-and-bolts techniques. Let’s say you want to climb a mountain in Antarctica. I use ‘what-if’ lists of questions that include most of the possible scenarios and risks. Let’s say you break your leg. What do I need to do? I need to train in first aid beforehand. We’ll need something to stabilize your leg, so I need to bring a splint and so on. So, we get our equipment list. If we find answers to over 85 percent of our questions, then we can go on the trip. NASA and big companies require something like 95 percent certainty, but I’m ready to take a 15 percent chance of not knowing.
Expeditions have however been cancelled or postponed due, for instance, to a deadly plague outbreak in Madagascar or security threats in the Sahara, as well as crew members’ broken bones.
As a mountain-climber since the age of 17, my risk level has changed with age and experience. I’m definitely more cautious. For example, after crashing an aircraft in Antarctica, I look more carefully into what kinds of planes I jump into, and what happens if we crash. I know where the risks lie, and I don’t want to get into these situations. And if I do accidentally end up in them, I have training.”
Mistakes usually come from being overconfident. How then can we protect ourselves from slipping into overconfidence and routine? Of course, routine is good to a certain point. But you can’t neglect what’s happening around you. You need to be sharp at all times. But we can really only concentrate on something for an average of about seven minutes in one push; then you usually start thinking about something else.
Another angle is the love for our natural world. At the moment it is hurting, and to be able to make a change, we need an impact. That impact is often nowadays gained visually. In addition to the scientific reports about the current state of our nature, we need pictures and videos to enhance this message. I am ready to go out of my comfort zone to gain this.
How important is it to set goals and how flexible should you be if unforeseen challenges present themselves?
Setting the goal is the first thing we do, and it is done by a 7-step ladder that I have developed during the years of exploring. Our goal has to be:
1. specific – We have to know exactly where to go and what we want to achieve.
2. measurable – Are we doing good or bad? If we don´t know how we are performing, we don´t know when we have to make a change.
3. scheduled – It is easier for you to do your work if other people know where you are and when. The question of time can also be very different around the world, and that is why we use the “diplomatic” model. We are always on time to the minute.
4. morally and ethically acceptable – For someone a certain goal can be morally or ethically impossible. Then that person drops out of our team. But it could be we need that person’s skillset and have to slightly trim our goal.
5. challenging – If the goal is too easy, you don´t think about it. If your goal is very challenging, you will think about it, talk about it, train harder, and do more than others.
6. reachable – The goal has to be possible and not impossible. Usually for people who aren’t motivated enough, it’s easier to say no. But where does the level of impossibility stop? Before one expedition to Antarctica, 34 different people told me it was impossible. We reached our goal anyway.
7. relevant – There has to be a good reason for you to join, and that reason is your personal motive. The key to secure our success is for everyone in the team to combine their strongest motive with our common goal. That way we will reach our goal, because everyone wants it badly!
Communication is key to working with and in a team, how do you ensure that everyone maintains the highest level of communication?
Before the teambuilding starts, we have to secure the communication. We have to speak the same language, and with that I do not mean English, Finnish or German. We have to understand how the other person communicates. Some people don´t speak that well but are good at writing. Some others don´t wake up before 11 o´clock. Then we speak after 11. Most of us have a working communication with someone we love. On our expeditions we try to raise our communication to the same level as we have with our loved ones. Then you WANT to have the other person’s information, and through that we have secured the communication.