Ah, What if?

It’s one of the most important questions we can ask. It implies possibility. It serves to move one’s thinking forward. It helps us break free from the fetters of habit. And it sparks the imagination. With that in mind, what if three of the great explorers from the ‘Heroic Age’ of Polar exploration (Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen) were able to take part in our Lumina Spark personal assessment?


Alas, we will never know and indulging in such idle conjecture, while amusing, is ultimately pointless. Or is it? If only there were some way of going back in time…There is. And it is called the Lumina Learning time machine, a Heath Robinson affair designed by none other than Dr Stewart Desson, the CEO of Lumina Learning.


About the size of small car, it has a small hemispherical cockpit made from a mysterious biopolymer called Jungian glass. It has two levers, one to send the machine whizzing into the future or the past, and the other to bring it back. Owing to the properties of ‘exotic matter,’ it is able to generate a temporary traversable wormhole which allows travel in both directions faster than the speed of light.


Time travel is not for the faint-hearted. Suffice it say we, we returned to 1908 and at length we found Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen. It took a good deal of convincing on our part, but eventually we prevailed on each man to fill out a Spark Questionnaire and the results are in.


Sir Ernest Shackleton ( 1874-1922)

Ernest Shackleton’s Spark psychometric


Shackleton has become a staple of leadership programmes and quite rightly so. His 800-mile journey in a lifeboat to fetch help and his 150-mile trek across South Georgia is one of the most remarkable tales of courage in the annals of exploration. While opinion remains divided on Amundsen and Scott, experts are unanimously agreed that Shackleton displayed all the character traits of a great leader.


His Splash and Spark Portrait bear this out. Observe the width and size of his ‘yellow arm.’ He scored a whopping 99% in Big Picture Thinking. Here then is a creative and visionary man. His rescue of all 26 men is little short of remarkable. After the Endurance became stuck in the ice, the members of the British Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition were stranded in the frozen sea for the better part of two years. They endured trials the like of which few of us will ever endure – hardship, privation, isolation, cold, and darkness.


What was the secret to Shackleton’s success?

In Lumina terms, his top Aspect is that of Big Picture Thinking. He was by turns an idealist and a dreamer with a profound love of books and poetry, particularly that of Tennyson and Browning. Great leaders are blessed with vision and imagination.


Shackleton had an uncanny ability to get the best out of his men. Even before disaster struck on January 19, 1915 (when the Endurance became trapped in the ice), he had done much to forge a shared identity with his team. It is a testament to his leadership, that not even in their darkest days when it looked certain that they would meet their end on the ice, did their esprit des corps falter.


‘Optimism is true moral courage.’

Despite his predicament, Shackleton managed to remain optimistic, at least in public. Indeed, he went so far as to say that ‘Optimism is true moral courage.’ This attitude evidently rubbed off on his comrades, for when Shackleton left on the rescue mission, second-in-command Frank Wild would put heart into the men by saying: “Roll up your bags boys, the Boss is coming today.”


Shackleton was single minded in pursuit of his goal. When he and his four companions put to sea in the James Cairn Lifeboat, he well knew the enormity of the task before them. Yet he never gave up hope. Even when they made land and realised they were on the wrong side of the island, he didn’t despair.


Like many great leaders, he was a profound student of human psychology. He well knew that, aside from the elements, despair and boredom could prove the expedition’s undoing and so he hit on the novel idea of planning an expedition to Alaska of all places. But there was a good deal of method in his madness. Firstly, it gave his men a welcome distraction from their predicament and secondly, it gave them hope that that they had a future.


He was man of great kindness and empathy. He had the knack of getting on with anybody, regardless of rank or class. Realising that there could be a potential for ill-feeling between the men and officers, he saw to it that everyone would perform menial chores. Shackleton led by example. He had the same rations as everyone else; he ensured that labour and chores were divided equally. When danger beckoned, he was the first to face it.


His kindness was to prove contagious. When Greenstreet, the First Officer, spilled his tiny ration of powdered milk whilst trying to stop an argument, he was brought close to tears. One by one, each crew member reached over and poured some of his milk into Greenstreet’s mug. One wonders if there would have been such acts of self-sacrifice but for Shackleton’s example.


An Inspired and Inspiring Leader

One of Shackleton’s greatest strengths was his ability to inspire and keep morale high. He made a point of keeping a calendar and saw to it that his men would celebrate holidays and birthdays, He took an interest in every member of the Expedition and came to understand each man individually.


Looked at through a Lumina Learning lens, Shackleton abounds in Paradoxes. He took charge, yet could be Intimate, he could be Tough, yet Accommodating, he could be Logical, yet show great empathy, he was Radical, yet Cautious, Conceptual, yet Practical. You might be forgiven for thinking then that he was something of a Paradox, combining as he did so many apparently opposite Qualities, but the truth is that he had that most rare of gifts: the ability to tune up or down any Quality at will to suit the occasion.


Robert Falcon Scott (1868-1912)
Robert Falcon Scott’s Spark psychometric

Robert Falcon Scott’s Spark psychometric


On March 29th, 1912, three men lay dying in a tent on the Antarctic Continent. They were returning from the South Pole when they were caught in a blizzard within 11 miles of a food depot. While the gale shrieked and beat its fists upon the flimsy canvas of their tent,  their commander wrote these words:


“We shall stick it to the end, but getting weaker, of course and the end cannot be far. For God’s sake, look after our people.”


So ended the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition under Scott. He and his companions died martyrs in the cause of science.


Posthumous Accolades

In the immediate years after they perished, Scott was lauded as a national hero. His star began to wane in the 1960s, when it became fashionable in some quarters to question his achievement. A number of controversial ‘revisionist’ biographies were published,  none more so than that of Ronald Huntford. His 1979 dual biography of Scott and Amundsen depicted the former as a “heroic bungler.”


More recently, however, several prominent figures have leapt to his defence such as Sir Ranulph Fiennes and meteorologist Susan Solomon and gradually the pendulum of opinion has begun to swing in his favour once more.


Scott’s finest hour was his worst and there is no denying the sheer courage of the man. Nor his fortitude, nor his command of language, nor his profound interest in science.


Roald Amundsen (1872-1928)
Roald Amundsen’s Spark psychometric

Roald Amundsen’s Spark psychometric


By anyone’s reckoning, Amundsen was a remarkable man. The professional explorer par excellence. His Splash paints the picture of a man of logic who got things done and did them in as straight forward a way as possible. Tough to a fault, fiercely competitive, a meticulous planner with great powers of organisation, he did what Scott failed to do and became, with his companions, the first man to reach the South Pole. Later, he became the first man to navigate the Northwest Passage. Like all heroes, he had feet of clay and with that gimlet eye of his, he looks back at us across time with a certain hauteur and coldness.


Yet he was not without his good points. He made it his business to learn as much about how the Eskimos and the Inuit coped with the rigours of extreme cold at a time when many thought them ‘backward.’ He learnt to use furs, drive dogs and build igloos as he sailed through the Northwest Passage, skills which put him in good stead in the dash for the South Pole.


Amundsen scores high in the Aspect of Inspiration Driven, that is to say he was Adaptable,  Flexible and Spontaneous in equal measure. When in 1909 word reached him that the American explorer, Robert E. Peary, had reached the North Pole, Amundsen set his sights on the South.


Single-minded to the point of obsession, he could also be ruthless. When he was laying his plans for his Antarctic Expedition, he knew that at some point he would have to give the order to kill and eat his dogs as a matter of strategy. And eat them he did, though it did cost him a pang in conscience. Diet was one of the key reasons for his success and indeed for Scott’s failure.


People management was not Amundsen’s forte. He quarrelled with one of his men, one Hjalmar Johansen. Amundsen had set forth too early in the season, and Johansen, having rescued a member of the Expedition from freezing to death, had the temerity to say that it was a grave error. Amundsen summarily dismissed him from the party heading for the South Pole and three years later Johansen committed suicide.


He was to fall out with the Italian aeronaut Umberto Nobile, who in 1926, piloted and constructed the airship, Norge, for Amundsen, the first aircraft to cross the North Pole.

Did Scott try to do too much? Amundsen had a single goal, where Scott had two: to reach the Pole and to further the cause of science. Scott elected to man-haul his sleds, whereas Amundsen plumped for dogs. Amundsen insisted that it was a triumph for Norway and that Nobile was merely the pilot. There followed years of mudslinging on both sides until Amundsen’s death in 1928 while flying on a rescue mission in the Arctic in search, ironically enough, of Nobile and his crew after his Airship, Italia, had crashed.


Lumina Learning and Inspire 22
Which brings us to 2022. What exactly has Lumina Learning got to do with Antarctica? Well, earlier this year we teamed up with the Inspire Expedition 22, a scientific endeavour whose main aim is to measure the impact severe cold has on the human metabolism.


To help the team cope psychologically with the trials and privations of polar travel, Lumina Learning is putting two of the best empirically validated psychometric tools out there into their psychological backpack: Lumina Spark and Lumina Emotion. Lumina Spark will shine a light on their personality, their strengths and development areas. The what they do.  Lumina Emotion, by contrast, will help them understand their emotions, the emotional why that drives them.

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