“Spectacular achievements come from unspectacular preparation.”[i] The leaders of the most successful Antarctic expeditions knew this well. So do the most successful of entrepreneurs in any field.
The most compelling parts of any expedition story always seem to begin when the unpredictable forces of nature are ready to overwhelm, or when the glimmering hope of a new and unseen horizon beckons. But the real story has begun long before, in the careful study of the edges of the unknown, in the painstaking mathematics, and the detailed lists of what will be needed, and when and for how long in those dangerous places. This also occurs in the interviews and the hiring and firing of potential staff, as well as in the courting of well-heeled financiers and backers, and in making all the necessary, expensive purchases once funds are obtained.
No one person is skilled in all these areas, but the best leaders and organizers must come close. Self-educated in matters as diverse as diet and motive power, clothing and navigation, machinery and computation, ignition and meteorology, the leaders must not only excel, but bear on their shoulders the entire weight of the enterprise.
To the extent that such preparations are shared with us, we can only marvel at the dedication required, often for years, and often with only the hope of success. And in the event of little success, such dedication goes unrewarded by adequate compensation or public acclaim.
Thus it is that the survival of all those explorers in the frozen wastes of Antarctica came to depend on those who did the planning and preparation, to ensure that there were matches enough to keep their pipes and primus stoves lit, and see them home.
To learn more about how early Antarctic expeditions prepared, please see Chapter 4 of When Your Life Depends on It: Extreme Decision Making Lessons from the Antarctic.
[i] Attributed to Roger Staubach and Robert Schuller