One of the things I learnt from my Antarctic Expedition was the benefit of questioning ‘current best practice’. You might hear the phrase “Well, that’s the way we do things around here” when you start a new job, but on our Pole trek that simply wasn’t convincing enough to believe.

Not knowing anything about living in the extreme cold or how to become polar athletes, Kevin and I were able to second-guess some of the accepted behaviours of others. This wasn’t us thinking we didn’t need to learn from experts (we certainly did), rather we simply didn’t want to suffer when people said “it gets a little cold down there, prepare yourself for losing a few fingers.”

Kevin and I put our thinking caps on and tried loads of alterations to every part of our campaign. We read plenty of books and surrounded ourselves by very patient experts. We hoped our fresh perspectives would lead to innovative systems, equipment and behaviours that would mitigate the dreaded frost-bite.

Some of our own ideas were rubbish, but here’s one that worked, and worked well.

Cold injuries rarely occur when plenty of blood is pumping around the body. It’s during times such as putting up the tent when you can become cold and lack dexterity. We came up with some innovative mitts that kept our fingers toasty warm while we dragged the sleds, and then when putting up the tent we had little sleeves for our fingers to pop into. This helped with dexterity without the need to remove the entire glove. Gloves like these can now be bought from decent camping stores!

We often take innovations like this for granted, but they are evident everywhere you look. Think of Thomas Edison who took 4000 attempts before successfully developing the lightbulb. And even the boots rock climbers now consider more important than rope evolved from one of our First Crossings pioneers. Tom Fyfe questioned his tennis shoes when first scaling Mount de la Beche. Unwilling to accept the norm he went about innovating better footware.

These examples may sound simple enough, but they’re all related to problems people complained about. Don’t be afraid of looking closely at problems and brainstorm alternatives. After all, it may make the difference between success and failure.

I’d love to hear of the ideas you or your team have done to save time, effort, or frozen blood vessels. Leave a comment below!

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