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Re: What about the bad decisions?

July 20, 2017

While holding a book event for “When Your Life Depends on It” yesterday, I was asked to talk about some of the bad decisions that were made. A very short, unqualified answer could be: “There are no bad decisions, only bad results.” Decisions quickly made under extreme circumstances in the face of sudden unforeseen hardships or opportunities cannot be faulted for inattention to preparation or willful disregard of reality.

Hindsight, as they say, is always 20/20. The results of decisions—polar and non-polar, extreme and ordinary—are known by their outcomes. The roads not taken lead to obscurity.

We can speculate, for instance, the success that might have come to pass had Shackleton’s Endurance put the transcontinental party ashore at the first possible landing place—the party landed, the ship safely returned to South Georgia, the pole attained possibly, but if so at greater cost. And so on. Those outcomes would have been justly celebrated. Shackleton’s decision to push farther south could have resulted in a better situated starting point, a more successful crossing. The future was (as it always is) still unknown. Given the state of geographical knowledge of the Weddell Sea, his decision was neither good nor bad; it’s result, the destruction of the ship by the ice, was clearly bad. But could not have been foreseen.

Those who would fault Scott for his choice of transport have not seen his careful computations made long before the South Polar journey, of the relative efficiencies of dogs, ponies, motors, and men in transporting the necessary supplies long distances over the ice. The tragedy on the return from the Pole was more the result of the inaccurate assumptions on which his calculations were based, and weather that deviated from the known patterns, than from inattention to detail in the preparation.

There can be endless discussions, point and counterpoint, on these two and innumerable other polar decisions, as to what might have happened if a different course of action had been chosen. The intent of our book on extreme decision-making is to stimulate those conversations.

In the end, when facing the unknown, we can only make our best preparations extrapolating from what we already know, and determine our courses of action by what we confront in the field, wherever that field may lie.


Much Ado About Nothing, indeed! at Marin Shakespeare

June 29, 2017

Marin Shakespeare director Robert Currier has elected to set this comedy in backwoods Kentucky, allowing some of the more buffoonish characters plenty of room to expand into believably wide-eyed hillbillies. The cast developed their Appalachian speech patterns on their own, close enough to the real thing yet broad enough to encompass the absurdities of Shakespeare’s wildly convoluted plot.

There’s music galore—guitar, flute, mandolin and the occasional banjo slipping into impromptu bluegrass concerts in many-part harmony, and Claudio’s (Joshua Hollister) memorably plaintive solo as he ponders love lost by the error of his ways. In place of renaissance swordplay there’s swirling country dance choreography—three-step waltzes and intertwining contras to bring the stage to vibrant life.

The convoluted plot—three separate story lines woven together in a fabric impossible to weave within the scope of a review—develops at a leisurely pace while the case for mistaken identity as the route to true love unfolds.

Damien Brown inhabits the role of Benedick as though he were born to it, bringing a street-smart manliness to every scene he’s in, cajoling his friends and challenging his adversaries with a street-smart manliness, wooing his lover with uncertain tenderness. Elena Wright gives yet another star turn as Beatrice, the sometime object of his love, a true vixen playing—at first—with is affections, until the truth of who-loves-who comes out. Hero (Nicole Aposto Bruno), the object of Claudio’s affections, is a genuine pleasure to watch as she takes over the stage in the third act.

All of the minor characters get their moment in the spotlight, none so well deserved as the King’s-English-mangling Dogberry (Barry Kraft) and his sidekick Verges (Debi Durst), serving up some of the best of the Bard’s malapropic wordplay. A sleazier character than Don John could not be imagined, and Clay David plays the role of this manipulator with Machiavellian glee. He’s the man we love to hate.

In the best of Shakespeare’s comedies, he leavens the mirth with a tragic interlude, some place where his mastery of the true breadth of the human experience can be given scope. In Much Ado, that moment is captured in Leonato’s display of a father’s grief and despair when he believes his only daughter Hero, the rose of his life, has died. But his grief is as much as at the rumored circumstances of her demise, wherein she has not only died, but her supposed unchaste behavior in doing so has besmirched the family name. It takes real talent to make this contrivance a tragic fall from grace, and Steve Price is a master at this.

Of course (this is Shakespeare’s comedy, after all) Hero recovers. The father is overjoyed, her errant Claudio suitor forgiven, and Beatrice and Benedick come together at last, as it was always meant to be. “Much Ado About Nothing,” indeed!

Through July 23, 2017 at Forest Meadows Amphitheater, Dominican University, San Rafael CA

Box Office: Marin Shakespeare

Radio Time: The sound of our own voices

June 18, 2017

Brad Borkan and I were delighted to find ourselves and our book the subject of an hour-long online radio interview this week with the talented radio host Bonnie D.Graham, whose knack for probing questions and guided conversation can bring unexpected results.

Brad and I each know our book from our own perspective, and of course we’ve spent a good deal of time talking about it together in the last two years. But conversations are by nature transitory, their words soon consigned to the vague archives of memory. In contrast, this one is preserved in easily accessible digital format, for all to hear.

It’s something we can be proud of, that in giving voice to the ideas we have come to understand more deeply over time, we find we can share them from a place in the heart as well as from the intellectual processes of writing, editing, and publishing.

This is something you can only become aware of when you can listen to your own words, spoken in the moment, describing and illuminating the ideas–answering the questions, if you will, and then pondering the further implications of those answers from outside that moment.

Follow this link to hear for yourself: Extreme Decisions on the Radio: Brad Borkan and David Hirzel with Bonnie D. Graham

Let us know what you think.

There’s more to Public Speaking than just Talking

June 8, 2017

One of the many valuable things I learned on this most recent tour, was that in giving a book talk to a new audience, the connections being made are more important than the words spoken, or even the words written.

The study of all things Antarctic and the resulting books have added a depth and meaning to my life that would otherwise have been lacking. Working with Brad, creating “Extreme Decisions,” and then travelling—to Oslo for the SouthPole-sium v3 and to Dundee for the Shackleton Appreciation Society—to introduce it were their own reward. My talk on “The Livie Boatworks of Dundee” had a similar result.

But the experience having given three talks on two books, to three different audiences who had come together because of their own shared passions, gave me something new to think about.

It’s not about the words, it’s about the connections. All these people had come together, some at considerable expense from quite a distance, not just to hear us—there were plenty of other speakers and topics just as interesting—but to meet like-minded folk. And they did, renewing old friendships and forging new ones, on the spot.

Much like Brad and I did at the South-Polesium v2 in Croabh Haven.

Sure, we sold a few books. But the new relationships we came away with are worth more than gold.
They wouldn’t have happened without the conferences, which wouldn’t have happened without the many speakers and writers who came to share their ideas, each in turn with all of us who came to learn, to share, and to connect.

“When Your Life Depends on It: Extreme Decision-Making Lessons from the Antarctic” International Book Launch: Oslo, May 13, 2017

May 27, 2017

Two Antarctic Conferences in one week. The timing could not have been better. The first to be scheduled was Rob Stephenson’s “SouthPole-sium” in Oslo, the third biennial meeting of like-minded Antarctic aficionados. Sixty-six of us—authors, scientists, veterans of the ice, book collectors, and most importantly by now, old friends and new—convened at the Fram Museum to meet, share ideas, learn, and grow.

It’s an informal gathering, with short presentations by the participants on a wide array of diverse topics: the contributions of W. S. Bruce and Thomas Bagshawe, archives at the Wilson in Cheltenham and the Byrd Polar Research Center at OSU, climate change and the emperor penguin, and much, much more.

Including the formal launch of our book. I met Brad Borkan at the SouthPole-sium v2 in Craobh Haven, Scotland, and there we hatched our plan to write our book. The first words were committed to .doc in a hotel in Glasgow on Monday after. But that is another story.

We were pleased to present, for the first time together, our new book When Your Life Depends on It: Extreme Decision-making Lessons from the Antarctic. Our audience could not have been more supportive of our venture, and we spent much of the weekend in smaller conversations about our book, our experience, and the process of decision-making, with our friends.

Brad Borkan and David Hirzel present “Extreme Decisions”

The SouthPole-sium is a gathering that is not to be missed. But it was not the only such gathering in Europe during the week of May 13-May 20, 2017.

Hamilton at the Orpheum: Don’t throw away your SHOT!

April 10, 2017

Hamilton at the Orpheum: Don’t throw away your SHOT!

One thing the world doesn’t really need is another glowing review of the hit Broadway show Hamilton, just opened in San Francisco at the Orpheum. Here’s one anyway.

I was one of the fortunate few to see this show in the first week of its San Francisco run. And like everyone else in the seats, I left the theater singing. With this show, you just can’t help it. (“I’m not throwin’ away my . . . SHOT!“) The music ranges from the inescapably rhythmic (“My Shot”) to the powerfully uplifting (“Rise Up”) to the hauntingly beautiful () to the show’s final unanswered question (“Who’s Going to Tell Your Story”). If you’ve already become familiar with these from the soundtrack, you know what you’re going to like.

But you don’t know nuthin’ until you’ve seen them performed onstage.

The show is a visual feast. Here are some things you have to be there to know. A lighting design like no other, where the light shows are one with the sound, and when there is a tender moment in the action, there is a tender circle of light enclosing it; when there is explosion in the music, there is an explosion of light, brilliant and perfectly timed. There are some fascinating mechanics in the stage itself, a cinematic movement creating action even it seems beside the point of the action onstage. A wildly enduring choreography, never at rest but never intrusive, always perfectly timed and place. Costumes, color, orchestra, set design all work together in an extravagantly produced show. Better, I’ve heard, than the NY production.

Don’t worry about taking the cheap seats at the Orphem. Built in 1926, it retains ALL the details of its glory days. Even the last row balcony has an unobstructed—possibly better—view of the stage. Don’t forget to bring your opera glasses, though. Hamilton’s (Michael Luwoye) tear-streaked face when his bride Eliza (Solea Pfeiffer) forgives his errant ways give so much more passion and potency to the scene, elevating that lovely music to even greater heights. There are too many other stellar performances for me to name them all here. Go see for yourself.

The first half of the show, with its revolutionary fervor, its call to risk everything to fight for a cause you have put your faith in, has particular relevance today in the aftermath of the 2016 election. This is one show that can leave you singing a song that really comes from the heart.

Through August 5, 2017

Box Office: Hamilton at the SF Orpheum

Now in Print! “When Your Life Depends on It” co-authored by David Hirzel and Brad Borkan

February 16, 2017

We are pleased to announce the publication of our latest book “When Your Life Depends on It: Extreme Decision-Making Lessons from the Antarctic.” Co-written by David Hirzel and Brad Borkan (London), this book uses epic true stories from the “heroic age” of Antarctic exploration to place the reader in those life and death situations and asks “How would you have responded?” Filled with compelling lessons in teamwork, leadership, camaraderie and sheer grit and determination that are as useful today as they were 100 years ago, this book reveals methods that you can immediately put to use in your personal and business life. What decisions would you make if your life depended on it?

Now available on To order click title here: “When Your Life Depends on It”
International book tour May 2017