There is a famous current that circles Antarctica, called the Antarctic circumpolar current (ACC). It helps contain the colder waters of the south from the warmer waters of the north. It generates a phenomenon colloquially called the Convergence. The first time I experienced this, it was an almost impenetrable mist that descended after the challenge of the variable and famous Drake Passage.
I have two metaphors to describe this phenomenon. First, consider your own refrigerator. Open the door. You likely have the vegetables in the containers at the bottom, you have a meat or cheese tray. Above this a space for bigger objects from pickles to left overs stored carefully in containers. Above or behind these you have a range of things that you rarely get to. Above this part of your fridge is the deep freeze, full of things you are storing for a while and things you have forgotten about. This is our world in all its beauty and variety. None of this is Antarctica. Now, pull your fridge out from the wall, look at the engine that drives the fridge. Now you are looking at Antarctica. Perhaps the primary difference is that Antarctica is an uninhabited continent, protected for science and peace, essentially pristine, the back of your fridge not so much!
The second metaphor is stolen from the famous The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. For those of you who have read this book, the metaphor will steal into your hearts perfectly. (For those of you who haven’t, go to the next paragraph.) In this beautiful novel, a group of children are sent to a country home (during WWII) to keep them out of London (which was being bombed). The children find a cupboard in the house full of big coats. One day, playing hide and seek, they discover that when you push through the coats, there is no back to the cupboard. In fact, eventually you push through and you are now in a different and frozen world. This is what happens when you pop through the Convergence: before you were in a world you understand, afterwards you are not.
Right now I am in Antarctica with the biggest expedition of women leaders with a STEMM background, all here to focus on leading for the greater good, influencing decision making as it shapes our future. This is Homeward Bound.
As I write, there is an arc of beauty surrounding our ship in Antarctica. It is a monochromatic painting of epic proportions. A white that is whiter than white, broken by hairline fractures of aquamarine blue, is visible at every turn. Giant Petrels, Gentoo penguins, Weddell seals, Humpback whales are part of the everyday majesty of this space.
I was standing outside a couple of days ago, caught up such a moment, when I noticed something out of place. It was perhaps 300 meters off the starboard side of the ship, it was orange. It was a plastic ship’s buoy, floating, bobbing, in the otherwise flawless view. I became fixated on it. I kept thinking ‘you don’t belong and yet you will outlive everything that is alive today’. I thought about an article I read about a lost plastic fishing net rising and falling in Marianna’s Trench (in the Pacific? Ocean). The trench is 12km deep. The net will circle the ocean filling with fish, then, when it is full, it will fall to the ocean floor, its catch with it. At the bottom of the trench the catch will eventually be eaten by other fish, and then the net will rise again fill up with another ghost catch and then sink in a pointless and endless cycle. The plastic will hold the integrity of the net for a very long time.
Leadership Lessons from an orange ship’s buoy in Antarctica
- Our challenges are the consequence of trillions of actions that are thought+less; our solutions need to come from trillions of actions that are thought+full
- Leadership is measured by what we leave not what we take
- 110 years from now, everyone alive on the planet will essentially be dead; hold that thought
- Legacy is a collective responsibility
- Demand more of your self and other leaders for the greater good
It’s time for women to lead #takeyourplace