Adapt or Die: The Endurance [Swipe File]

[The Swipe File is a collection of images, stories, jokes, and other resources to use in your next presentation.]

THE IDEA YOU WANT TO LAND: “ADAPT OR DIE”

A lot of communications in business and sales are about “adaptation.” Often success — and even survival — depends on our ability adjust in the moment to new information or new conditions.

The first option is to just tell people they need to adapt (and yes, “adapt or die” is a good, simple way to do it). but without context, a catchy phrase alone is too abstract to engage people’s emotions. Your audience or customer needs to both feel the urgency and see that adaptability can and will lead to success.

How can you land this idea with power?

THE OBVIOUS OPTION: Road Signs, Dinosaurs, and Dodos (oh my!)

Dodo bird head

Who are you calling a Dodo?

If you do a quick Google image search of “adapt or die,” you’ll get the standard stock photo go-tos of chalkboards and roadsigns. But using the extraordinary power of visuals on something just one step up from putting a bullet on a slide? Huge missed opportunity.

If you look further, there are images of fossils, dinosaurs, and dodo birds. Those are all good examples of things that used to be here and now aren’t, but calling someone a dinosaur (much less a Dodo!) can be a bit treacherous.

What’s the answer? Is there a story that’s both positive AND powerful? Yes.

FOR THE SWIPE FILE: THE JOURNEY OF THE HMS ENDURANCE

Endurance sinking

The Endurance, sinking. A literal case of “adapt or die.”

In 1914, explorer Ernest Shackleton set sail for the Antarctic. With him were with 27 men, 69 dogs, and one stalwart cat (the fantastically named Mrs. Chippy). Their mission: to be the first to cross the Antarctic continent.

Mother Nature had other plans. Five months after beginning her journey, the Endurance got trapped in the ice. Nine months later, she sank beneath Antarctica’s Weddell Sea.

In many ways, that was only the beginning of the journey for Shackleton and his crew.

After their ship sank, the crew then camped on the ice itself for another four months. When warming temperatures melted their camp out from under them, the men again had to adapt. After piling into three retrofitted lifeboats, they made for an uninhabited island over a 100 miles away. With them was only the most basic of navigational equipment. But if they missed the island, they would be in the open sea, in some of the most treacherous waters on Planet Earth.

But they made it.

They landed on Elephant Island after two tries. Their home for the next few months was a narrow rocky beach, but the group couldn’t stay there for long. Food supplies were running low, and severe physical and mental illnesses were claiming many of the men.

“A man must shape himself to a new mark directly the old one goes to ground.”
Ernest Shackleton

Shackleton’s only choice was to take a small group of men back into one of the boats. Their goal? A whaling station on South Georgia Island…800 miles away. There lay the closest ships, and the closest hope of rescue.

They faced 60-foot waves, and only 2 days with enough sunlight to get a decent navigational reading. But over two weeks later, the battered group landed on South Georgia.

On the wrong side.

Expedition map and timeline

Adapting to conditions at every turn.

The men would have to cross the mountain range that divided South Georgia — a passage no one had ever made before. After their ocean battle, three of the men were simply not strong enough to make the journey. With the only hope of survial on the island’s other side, Shackleton and two others set out. They spent 36 straight hours making the crossing, including sliding down the side of a mountain when no other route was open to them.

Again they made it, and rescued the three men left on the other side of South Georgia. But neither their journey, nor their struggles were over. It took four tries to rescue the remaining 21 men. They had been waiting, with fading hope, for three months. But the last trip was finally a success.

All twenty-eight men adapted…and survived.

OTHER WAYS TO USE THE ENDURANCE

All safe, all well.

All safe, all well.

Is this the only idea The Endurance lands? Clearly not. You can use the story of the Endurance to land any number of different ideas. There are potential lessons here on:

  • ingenuity (the crew had to dismantle and rebuild with the same basic materials over and over again)
  • hard choices
  • winning against the odds
  • leadership
  • faith
  • technical ability (remember the mere two days of sunlight on an 800-mile journey?)
  • having the right team

And yes, even endurance.


We’re always looking for great ideas, images, and stories to use in the Swipe File.

What have you used to land “adapt or die”? How would you use The Endurance in an upcoming presentation, conversation, or article?


Written by

tamsen