Ernest Shackleton’s century-old mission to cross the South Pole is a popular case study in business school these days, in spite of the colossal failure of that expedition. What students find inspiring is how Shackleton led his men to safety across the world’s most hostile terrain through two grueling winters
Shackleton’s popularity reflects a growing appreciation of the importance of endurance, a virtue that is researched, analyzed and celebrated in this Brunswick Review. Of all the possible components of survival and success – talent, creativity, intelligence, luck – endurance may be the most vital, and least often acknowledged. For most of us, failure at some point is unavoidable. What will distinguish us is how we overcome it: how we respond and endure.
Technology, processes and systems seem to have shorter and shorter life spans. Beliefs and philosophies, on the other hand, seem to endure as powerful forces that underpin the survival of many organizations. Often they are the bedrock of longevity. But not because they remain immutable, cast in stone. Successful companies tap into their enduring beliefs and sense of purpose, re-expressing them to remain relevant in a changing world.
While it’s not always possible to avoid disasters or to stop the world around you changing, it is possible to influence whether the outcome will be terminal or the trigger for a new chapter in the development of the organization. Businesses that endure demonstrate a capacity for renewal. It is in the nature of the leaders of great, change-welcoming companies to square their shoulders and walk toward the challenges.
In most cases, and for most of us, the biggest threats are clearly visible. We see them and we talk about them. The real question is whether we can adapt to them, and do so fast enough. Whether you look at the relationship between FinTech and the traditional banks, e-commerce and the brick-and-mortar retail chains, or the rise of social media and the decline of newsprint, it’s evident that the ability to radically adapt how you think and operate can be the difference between life and death. So often, endurance relies on the ability to reimagine one’s self and one’s business.
McKinsey & Co. Managing Partner Dominic Barton demonstrates the case for longer term capital. Long-term thinking, reinvention and reimagining are behind the success of Kansai Paint’s century-old pursuit of ever-better products, leading to a breakthrough in the public-health battle against malaria and viral infections. Carlyle Group’s David Rubenstein, a leading player in the private equity universe, reinvented his late-life career, becoming a TV host interviewing brand-name chief executives.
In these pages, you’ll also find a hotel in Japan that dates to 705, a Germany winery that started in 862, and a contemporary Chinese tech legend named Alibaba that explicitly intends to last at least until 2101.
Yet against the odds, some things that endure are surprising, delightfully so. As Brunswick’s Khozem Merchant reports, technology is yet to displace India’s love affair with the manual typewriter.
Long may you run!