My guest this week is Brad Borkan, who wrote a book about failure. OK. Not exactly about failure, but about explorers, specifically polar explorers. They have a very distinct goal in mind. Reach the North Pole or the South Pole. Sometimes they make it, sometimes they fall short. And, through their successes and failures, we mortals who are not polar explorers can learn something about how to deal with adversity in our lives.
Every week I interview a member of ALLi to talk about their writing and what inspires them, and why they are inspiring to other authors.
A few highlights from our interview:
On What We Can Learn from Polar Explorers
We can learn about goals, we can learn about leadership, we can learn about teamwork, we can learn about resilience, we can learn about how to make decisions quickly, they were very good at making decisions quickly.
On How He is Like a Polar Explorer
I decided, okay, I’m not going to reach the goal of the level of the company that I desired but there’s something else I can do. I can write a book about Antarctica. And I think that was the impetus to actually looking at these stories and thinking, actually, I can apply this into my own life
Listen to my Interview with Brad Borkan
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About the Host
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last six years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcripts From my Interview with Brad Borkan
Howard Lovy: I’m Howard Lovy, and you’re listening to inspirational indie authors. Every week I feature a member of the alliance of independent authors to find out what inspires them, and how they are an inspiration to other authors. My guest this week is Brad Borkan, who wrote a book about failure. Okay, not exactly about failure, but about explorers, specifically polar explorers. They have a very distinct goal in mind reached the North Pole or the South Pole. Sometimes they make it, sometimes they fall short. Through their successes and failures. We mortals who are not polar explorers can learn something about how to deal with adversity in our lives. I’ll let Brad tell the rest.
Brad Borkan: My name is Brad Borkan. And I’m an American author who lives in London. I’ve co-written a book about the early Antarctic explorers and what we do in the book is we look at life-and-death decisions. Is that the early explorers made on the ice? And we asked what can we learn from their situations to help us make better decisions in our modern lives.
I became interested in polar history and Antarctic history from quite a young age, from the age of eight, and my mother worked in the local public library. And after school, I’d have to go and hang out at the library till she got off work, and was usually quite bored by this whole process until I discovered a book about the early Antarctic Explorer. So, it was either book about Captain Scott or Shackleton or one of the expeditions I can’t recall what book it was, but just captivated my imagination, and that why would people go to such remote spots on earth, that would look no different than any other spot? Probably 100 or 200 miles from it. It’s just a location on the planet, with a bunch of snow, and why would you risk life and limb to do it? And it just it just baffled me, and I was constantly then interested in why do people do what they do? Why do people make decisions that they do? Why do they take the risks that they do?
And from then on, they might my days at the library were quite are quite entertaining because there’s lots of things that people risked their lives doing, whether they’re firefighters, whether they were reading about the guy who carved Mount Rushmore, I mean, all the all these incredible things that people did that was just incredibly risky. I’m not an adventurous person by nature.
So, I have traveled around the world quite a bit and I’ve been to Antarctica, I don’t consider myself an adventurous person. I’m not going to throw myself into risky situations. And I think that’s what intrigued me about these people. And they could do this so willingly and easily and face hardships and dangers that I could never contemplate.
Howard Lovy: Brad’s fascination with getting inside people’s heads to discover why they make certain decisions continued into adulthood, where he pursued it as an academic study.
Brad Borkan: My undergraduate degree was a mathematics my graduate degree is much more relevant to this because my graduate degrees in Decision Sciences From the University of Pennsylvania decision science is actually the study of how to businesses make better decisions using computers fundamentally and, and but also come gets into the areas of psychology How do people make better decisions? How to use technology how to use various decision resources to make the choices that we make? And what caught my interest was? What do we buy what we buy? Why do we marry the people we meet and how do we build relationships? And how do we do various things? And why do we do various things? So, on long my whole career has been working for the for large software companies helping businesses make better decisions. As a result of that. I always been in the back of my mind. There’s this combination of interests, this interest in Antarctica and early Antarctic expeditions and the concept of why do we make this reason so we make and it just seemed, at one point, I just thought, well, there might there’s an interesting blend here between what’s in the literature what’s The Antarctic literature, is there anything about decision making in that literature? And I just couldn’t find it.
Howard Lovy: So, Brad, remembered the first rule of self-publishing. If you can’t find the book you want to read, go ahead and write it yourself. But the question was how is making a decision in a business setting similar to the life and death decisions made by Arctic explorers?
Brad Borkan: That was really what I was interested in exploring the relationship between what can we learn from the early Antarctic explorers and their life and death decisions that can help us in modern decision making business decision making, and personal decision making because when you look at on the face of it, these guys are doing something that will never do.
We’re never going to go down to Antarctica and pull sledges filled with our belongings. Everything we have, tent, sleeping bags, everything across this frozen tundra trying to survive and with the sole purpose of getting to the South Pole or doing science in various parts of Antarctica, but basically fundamentally doing some incredibly hazardous, and yet our modern lives are completely different from that we have all the creature comforts, we’ve got GPS, we’ve got phones that can tell us where we are in the world. We’ve got all the capabilities of communication. And yet what is remarkable about what these explorers did is they’re making decisions in pure isolation. They didn’t have any communication to the outside world. In fact, in the book, we say the only communication is as far as you can shout, and so they’re in this very unique decision making situation and they’ve gotten themselves into these life and death situations all the time and looking at them for the most part, they survived, they didn’t all survive.
When you look at this, there was a lot we can learn from what they did. We can learn about goals, we can learn about leadership, we can learn about teamwork, we can learn about resilience, we can learn about how to make decisions quickly, they were very good at making decisions quickly. And I think in modern life, we take a different approach, which is we’ve got Google, we’ve got different ways to analyze it. We can talk with lots of people, we can ask people questions on Twitter and Facebook and just collect tons and tons of information. And we end up in this decision paralysis, where we’re just like, we’ve got so many choices. I have friends who have spent a year buying a car because it can’t decide which car to buy, because it will get all the specs and all the details, all the colors. And yet, the learning from the explorers of how to make decisions quickly can be quite a good benefit. Think about
Howard Lovy: Think of a work situation you’ve been in when you did not meet your goal. In fact, by any objective measure, you failed. According to Brad and the explorers he studied, you can still turn it into a win.
Brad Borkan: One of my favorite stories, is the early stories around Shackleton. Shackleton first went down to Antarctica with Captain Scott’s expedition and I believe it’s 1903 And he goes down to Antarctica and Scott has ran this big scientific expedition that Scott, can’t recall the exact number, 30, 40 people on it, various people doing different things, but they want to get some experience in traveling into the interior of Antarctica. There’s a three-man team and Scott and his right hand man Edward Wilson are the two main people on this three man team and they’re going to choose a third from the various other men were down there and Shackleton begs to go and he’s desperate to go with them, even though he sort of has bad health that he sir hides, hides from them, he goes and they travel into the interior three or 400 miles pulling a sledge and pulling all their supplies and on the way back, he gets scurvy and checked and almost dies on their back.
They’re basically pulling him on the sledge shackles his body weight plus all the tent and sleeping bags and whatever remaining food they have and basically pulling them back to base camp to safety. And he’s very nearly dead and he gets sent back to you England and rather than going back to England and being remorseful, like, oh, I’ve been sent home I, I almost died. We never really got as far into the interior as we had hoped. And it was all sort of a bit of failure, he comes back. And he’s telling everyone how great it was, how what a wonderful experience it was and how great the expedition was and sets up his own expedition. So just that’s like an immediate lesson and how to deal with failure, or adversity or bad luck, or some combination, just going back and just being positive about it.
Howard Lovy: Still not convinced that success can be snatched from the jaws of failure. There’s more to the story of Shackleton. He tries again, and fails again. Sort of.
Brad Borkan: Continue the story a little bit further. He then sets up his own expedition, and their goal is to get to South Pole. So there are ready pilot, they’ve already got to follow the same route that Scott Shackleton and Wilson took, but now go a lot further and now actually get to South Pole and they get to this point where they’re literally nearly 103 miles from the South Pole, and they’re running out of food, and they know that they’ll run out of food, the question then becomes, do they continue forward to the South Pole? Or do they turn around? And it’s this wonderful story. I don’t know. I don’t know if I want to reveal what happens because that’s in the book. But it’s this wonderful story about what do you do when your goals in sight, but you may not reach it. And this is something we experienced a lot in our modern lives. We set goals and we try to achieve things and sometimes we don’t achieve them. Or sometimes we barely achieve them. It’s like, how do you deal with that? And how do you deal with the aftermath of that? And I think what Shackleton did was really quite remarkable.
Howard Lovy: So, this book is a little different from your average self-help book because there are no formulas for how to achieve your goals. In fact, in many cases, these polar explorers did not achieve their goals at all. Brad writes about what to do next. Even if you fail, and he applied it to his own life.
Brad Borkan: I was thinking of in terms of my own life, my own life being that I worked for this large software company and I always had a goal of getting to a certain level in the company, I realized that got to an age where I thought, I’m never going to achieve that and thinking relating this to Shackleton’s experience with his I’m not going to reach the South Pole, but I can reach something, I decided, okay, I’m not going to reach the goal of the level of the company that I desired but there’s something else I can do. I can write a book about Antarctica. And I think that was the impetus to actually looking at these stories and thinking, actually, I can apply this into my own life and make, and take a completely different tack from being at working at a bit large software company. I can do some that that’s meaningful, not just to me, but actually, the goal behind the book is to get these stories out into the popular culture much more than they are today.
Howard Lovy: And Brad pioneered something else for indie authors. He was a finalist for an audiobook of the Year award. Like many of the explorers he writes about, he did not actually win, but his footprints can be found in the snow