April 21, 2011

The Shackelton advert myth

Endurance sinking in Antarctica, November 1915
Royal Geographic Society
Among the lore of businesspeople is the story of the ad Ernest Shackleton reputedly placed in a London newspaper to recruit a crew for the Endurance expedition:

Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in event of success.

The ad is generally said to have resulted in thousands of applications being sent to Shackelton. It’s usually cited to illustrate the idea that rewards are more important to workers than money.

The premise has some truth to it. For example, a group of teachers once toured the newsroom, and one of them asked about the cow on my desk. Betsy -- a 12-inch-high wooden figure of a Holstein -- was, I explained, a traveling trophy, passed from each employee of the month to the next.

The teacher noted how important such rewards are. “No one works for money.”

“Yes,” I said, “if everyone only worked for money, there would be no teachers and no one in the newsroom.”

They all found this rather funny.

But I’m not sure people work for “honor and recognition,” either.

During a June 4, 2010 public forum held in Orlando by the Task Force on Space Industry Workforce and Economic Development, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said of the thousands of shuttle program workers who are being laid off, “they are not looking for a job. They are looking for something that will help them make a difference.”

That’s really why dedicated workers do whatever they do. That’s also why people leave jobs others think of as good ones: they’re not being given an opportunity to make a difference.

And that’s why five thousand people, by some accounts, applied to accompany Shackelton to the South Pole. But -- and you know I had to do some mythbusting here -- they were not replying to the above ad. So far, no one has proved that ad ever appeared.

Shackelton recruited by letter, in geography journals and in The Times (London), but his letters are very pragmatic and contain no dire predictions or promises of honor.

The folks over at The Antarctic Circle have been working for over ten years to find the original ad. Despite a $100 prize and many people combing through microfilm of London newspapers, no one has found it.

Since a Google search on the phrase “Shackelton ad” turns up The Antarctic Circle’s well-documented debunking, there is really no excuse for quoting the bogus ad.

April 15, 2011

Winter preview

This is the promotional trailer for Winter by Keven Newsome. I had the privilege of editing this phenomenal book. It's a supernatural thriller with a powerful story of redemption.