A LIFE OF ADVENTURE
SAYING “YES” TO OPPORTUNITY
Stephen Venables’s career has pivoted around a groundbreaking ascent of Mt Everest. That climb makes a dramatic climax to this presentation, but in his talk Venables shows how he got to Everest and what he did subsequently with his success.
Starting with early adventures in the British hills and European Alps, Venables shows how key decisions shaped his life. He describes his first shoestring overseas expedition, travelling by bus to the mountains of Afghanistan. He discusses frankly the expeditions that failed and the learning he made from those failures. He illuminates the difficult business of choosing partners, the give-and-take of expedition life, the reconciling of radically different temperaments. And he shares the thrill of his great successes on previously untrodden summits – the turning of dreams into reality.
Making a career out of mountain exploration is a serendipitous business. For Stephen Venables success has come from seizing opportunities, combining different talents, following unexpected trails. An early intoxication with the theatre led eventually, via mountains, to success as a public speaker. Half-formed ambitions to write were eventually fulfilled with several successful travel books and frequent commissions from national newspapers. Art studies at school honed the visual awareness vital to taking the exciting photographs which illustrate his articles, books and public presentations.
Success on Everest in 1988 opened doors. It gave Venables the kudos to engage with bigger audiences and to make his first presentations to the business community. It led to film work for television and on the IMAX movie “Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure”. More recently, his collaboration with the world famous yachtsman Skip Novak has resulted in a series of polar expeditions aboard Pelagic Australis. By striving to look over new horizons, develop new skills, work with new teams and, above, continue learning, Stephen Venables has maintained the vitality and enthusiasm with which he inspires his audience.
EVEREST – THE PEAK OF SUCCESS
Everest was a milestone in Stephen Venables’s career. He pioneered a new route up the biggest face of the world’s highest mountain and he climbed alone on the final stretch to the summit. He is one of the very few people – and the first Briton – to reach the top of the world without the aid of supplementary oxygen, a feat which has been described as one of the supreme athletic tests known to man.
But Everest was not just a physical challenge. Venables succeeded because he decided to succeed. His personal motivation was total and he had a wealth of experience to back up that motivation.
He was also part of a team – an international team of just four climbers drawn from Canada, the USA and Briton, supported by four staff at base camp, working together to make a dream come true. Many experts warned that their dream was crazy. There were moments when Venables and his companions thought that perhaps the sceptics were right. But in the end they overcame those doubts and succeeded in writing one of the most triumphant chapters in Everest’s history – a new route up the gigantic Kangshung Face.
In telling the story of this historic expedition, Stephen Venables concentrates on the human drama, stressing the group dynamics which made the project such a success. In doing so, he illuminates the concerns which are at the heart of any great organisation:
TEAMWORK AND LEADERSHIP
Mountaineers are by nature obstinate individualists, but they have to work together, resolving tensions, recognizing and capitalising on their different skills and temperaments. For each team member, the expedition is a profound exercise in personal development.
The best expedition leaders are not autocrats, but they do have a gift for inspiring and motivating their companions, not just for the ultimate goal of the summit, but for the journey itself. The team has to believe in the value and excitement of the whole project. Individual members have constantly to remotivate themselves and each other.
Expeditions fluctuate between extremes of inactivity and feverish action: one week boredom is the problem, the next the team may be working 20 hour days, stretched to the limit of physical and psychological endurance, often at very close quarters. Patience, tolerance and, above all, humour are paramount.
Half the satisfaction of an expedition is the planning that makes the dream come true. Every logistical detail from cooking fuel, to porters’ insurance, to high altitude tents has to be planned meticulously. Given the huge risks and uncertainties on a big mountain, the organiser has to create a framework giving the best possible chance of success.
COPING WITH CHANGE
Mountaineering is about risk – embarking on a great adventure where the outcome is uncertain and the day to day circumstances change constantly. The basic plan is only a starting point. On the mountain the team has to be imaginative and flexible, constantly re-evaluating tactics.
MAKING THINGS HAPPEN
The best expeditions grow from the germ of an idea. Over a period of months or even years that idea becomes a reality. There are usually countless setbacks, but with the right team there is a conviction that problems are there to be solved. Mountaineering is about the art of the possible – about saying “Yes”!
CLIENTS AND COMPANIES ADDRESSED BY STEPHEN VENABLES
Boots Healthcare Int.
British American Tobacco
Civil Service College
Domino Printing Sciences
Grand Metropolitan Estates
Henley Management College
Institute of Management
|London Business School
Price Waterhouse Coopers
Sun Life of Canada
West Canadian Wheat Growers’ Association