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  • Writer's pictureLaurent Notin

Exploring the Unknown: A Journey to Transform Your Mindset with Mark Wood

This interview is a transcript from Inter:views, Cracking The Entrepreneurship Code, with Mark Wood, Explorer, Author, and Speaker. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Aron Clymer, Founder and CEO Data Clymer

Expeditions have the power to ignite a profound mindset shift. They open up new possibilities, urging you to think beyond conventional boundaries and encouraging the birth of fresh and creative ideas.

These ventures allow you to examine your own aspirations with honesty and find inspiration within them. Mark shares that balancing financial stability and pursuing your dreams is crucial as an entrepreneur.

However, the key to success is creating a remarkable product or service that genuinely benefits people. Your brand is synonymous with the business you represent. When others resonate with your energy, passion, and the path you're pursuing, they will be more inclined to support and sponsor you, forging a powerful alliance.

Mark Wood is an established speaker, author, and explorer who has completed over 30 major expeditions worldwide.

When did you know you wanted to be an explorer?

I don't think I know, and I even have to question that title sometimes; it depends on who you speak to. It is a questionable title if you speak to your peers or others who do what you do. You can justify in many ways that I dedicate my life to exploration. I don't just jump into adventure and then return to an office job; I dedicate my whole life.

But the way that I finalize my justification is I dedicate my exploration life to education. And when I go into a classroom full of six-year-old children and a teacher says, here's an explorer, and they get all excited for me, that's justification.

But to get into exploration, I know how it happened; obviously, I was in the military, to begin with, when I was a young boy from the age of seventeen to twenty-one, so university years if you like.

So that taught me discipline, and the world was different because we went abroad quite a lot; then, I traveled and joined the fire and rescue service. So, I was always sort of like, what's going to happen next? And then I got a bit bored in the fire and rescue service because it's a waiting game full of training and prep, but then you're waiting.

So, I just applied like anybody else can do in the world to do something different, and this is the adventurer. So, people can climb the nearest mountain to their home or go with a guide like me to the North Pole. The world is very open nowadays if you live in a free country.

And that's what I did. I went on selection, joined an expedition team to the pole, and the question would be, why did the pole begin with? What was the mindset of that? I'd actually read Mind Over Matter, which is quite poignant to your questioning today, I think, by Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

I spoke to him yesterday, funny enough, but 20 years ago, I was like, wow, who is this guy? And Mind Over Matter got into my psyche of thinking, wow, it's not just the body that's strong, and then I read another book of his called "Living Dangerously." And what I got from that book was how you could fill your life full of stuff to do, and I'm saying "stuff," not adventure because some people can't do adventure.

But actually, looking at your life in a distant way of saying, how will I really enjoy my life? It's going to be crap sometimes, but how am I going to enjoy my life? So that's how I took those two books and went off, and my first experience was in 2003, heading off to the Arctic.

What drives you?

I think in the first five to six years of doing this exploration; I was still working for the Fire and Rescue Service. So, I took three months off a year to go out and do an expedition. And at the time, I was learning the trade.

And I think, looking back now and in pure honesty, it was more egotistical. So, I wanted to be Ranulph Fiennes or Mike Stroud, or these guys that I knew of, Robert Swan and all that.

I wanted to have that photograph on the wall of me pulling the sled and everything. And why not? This is the beauty of it, and there is an ego side to everybody, and my ego was I wanted to go and do stuff, and what was all this about?

But after a while, I then thought, well, why do I want to do this? And I think the trigger was that I gave a talk at my old school in Coventry, and the kids were really excited. I then broke away from the team I was working with, and I led my team across the northwest passage on a four-week expedition to Lincoln Resolute Bay with Greece Field, the two highest Canadian settlements. And that was across the passage over small mountains through fields. We saw polar bears.

It had everything. It was like a boy's own adventure, as we used to say when I was a little boy. And that was really exciting. But the key to that expedition was I linked to these eighteen young people in my school via a sat phone every other day.

So, they would sit in the classroom around a speaker; I was like, hi guys, how are you doing? Hi, Mark. And I was operating in extremes. And this was like 2007. I think people are so used to this sort of technology nowadays that when you say, I linked from the extremes, it's like, yeah, okay, whatever. But, you know, it's not like wartime or anything. We weren't in World War 11, but it was early technology.

And I think the thing that I'm proud of, and I know we'll probably touch on this a bit later, but from that year of linking with 18 young people, I then went on to build education programs with Skype to 10,000 young people on Everest carried that through to 2019, where a linked, as you said, at the start to one point two million children.

And that's a known figure. All those figures are known, but the knock-on effect is not known. So how that affects the school and families, villages, etc?

What do you teach to those young people?

See that is the key question. That is a perfect question. It truly is because the broadness of this is the ten thousand young people that were connected with are from Africa, Sweden, Thailand, Canada, America, UK. They're all over the world. They live in different kinds of wealth, from Etonians in the UK to whatever else, and geographically, they live in small villages, big cities, or remote areas.

There's one school that we linked to, with only six children, and it was a homeschooled thing because I think it was in the Australian outback. So, you know, you're reaching different children. So, when you have five or ten minutes on the side in a very hostile environment, how can you immediately connect with a young person?

So, what I did, I came up with four things that I would touch on very quickly, and I'll tell you them now, but I think they resonate with every human being. Okay. So, I think the foremost important thing in the life of this, and this is when the podcast cuts out, and we lose signal, it's up the key to life.

I think the four things that I learned by and in order, I think the key to everything that you do is you've got to have total respect for yourself to begin with.

People would think, well, respect for others, but if you don't look after yourself and understand yourself and know that you are one of 7 billion people on the planet, you are unique and wonderful. You are a decent human no matter what you look like, where you live, or how much money you've got internally.

So be that person. We’ll muck up sometimes, but don't worry; that's the learning curve in it. But try and be a decent human being. Respect for yourself is paramount to how you move forward.

Second to that is to have equal respect for the environment. Now, we hear this every day. When I was a kid, we never learned about climate change, the environment, and everything else. And I think climate change seems very distant to people who live in the areas that I live in. And it's only when you go to the Arctic, the Amazon, or whatever you understand the enormity we see on TV.

What I tried to talk about is the environment directly outside of your building where you are; it's the local area, your garden, your village, your town, your school, your community. Understand that connection with the environment and its importance to your existence as a human being. That's dramatic, but it's spot-on, true, and real. Just have an appreciation.

The third thing is, I mentioned already, I'm from an industrial car area in the UK, Coventry, but I'm an explorer and military and rescue and stuff like that. So, you have got to think differently about life.

So, no matter where you are from, if you have nothing in your house if your mother and father have to work really hard, there's always things you can do to make everybody feel good and make your Village feel good, or your community or whatever.

And if you look down, there's nothing wrong with living a so-called normal life of nine to five days a week. That's a beautiful thing to do. But that comes with the first one, respect for yourself, but to actually think differently. How can I do this differently? So, look down at life like this, but then look slightly to the left or the right. And that's how life can be different.

And the fourth one is one that I struggle with because I'm so engrossed in trying to get these expeditions, education, filming, and everything so tight I forget to have fun. So, the fourth one is having fun. So, respect for yourself, respect for the environment, think differently about life and take time to appreciate and have fun. And they're the four messages that resonate with every human being.

You also do workshops for leaders. How do you translate what you just said and all your experiences in extraordinary situations to them?

Well, start off with I tell the audience of people who are making money out of leadership. Which is nothing wrong with that, by the way. Great businesses, great strategists and leaders, and people who understand how to run a business, get money, and progress a business.

So, they know more than me in that sense. But my skills have been learned from making a million mistakes and then coming out and understanding who I am and how I can guide and whatever. But right at the very start of a talk, I usually say that I won't reference everything to leadership.

So as an example, oh, I was on the side of Everest, and this happened. Just as your company puts together a project and maybe something goes wrong, it's so cliché.

So, what I say is, look, when I listen to speakers, generally, I parallel my own life with what they're saying. So, I pick out things, oh, I should do that, or I will do that, or that happened to me.

So let me tell my story, and then you take out of it what you want. If you don't understand certain bits, then that's your question at the end. So that's how I do it. But to format that, obviously, it needs to be formatted right so business leaders can gain something out of it.

So, what I do is, you know, all the expeditions that I've done, which are probably about twelve to fourteen major expeditions, is I pick on three moments of three big expeditions. So instead of saying, 300 pictures on the thing, this is when I did this, this is when I did that, this is when, you know, it's like Jesus. I have minimal pictures and a few really cool films.

But then the words are essential to go around that, and then the three areas that I pick on are being alone in Antarctica, having to cope with loneliness over 50 days, and how I sometimes feel in my mind and how I pick myself on and kept moving.

And the second one is the one I've just told you, but a more in-depth story about doing Everest. And then the third one is about working with a team across the North Pole and having to face not our own fault but the expedition changing, as my friend on the expedition has written a book about it called "Plan D."

So, it never worked until plan D, and then we executed what we wanted to do. So, I picked three areas. I tell the story because that's what explorers do, we story tell a moment, and then I highlight my decision-making in each one. You know, this is why I did this, et cetera. And I try and feed that into the story itself.

What goes in your head when you are by yourself all day long for so many days? How to transform your mindset?

I don't think you can operate alone unless you are flown into a position and dropped and left. Because I tried to train in a place called "Svalbard," a long way between Norway and the North Poles group of islands there.

And I spent 30 days out on my own, but I was quite close to the town, and I could hear Skidoos, and I'd sort of dipped in a couple of times and went to the cafe and grabbed a coffee, and I went back out again.

So, the human nature to not suffer too much was within me. And I was upset by my actions then, but I learned that was just human nature. But in Antarctica, the plane dropped me off on the west coast and then left.

And then you are left alone. You're alone in the world. I mentioned Ranulph Fiennes before, and he wrote something in his book that I wrote to him very earlier. And he wrote it down for me and sent it to me in a letter, which I was so proud of. I've got it today.

He was in the same position, and his words were, as the plane disappeared, and he looked towards his seven hundred masters in the South, and he was going to go beyond that. He wrote a thousand jumbled thoughts, helped to out the appalling realization that this was my first step of several thousand, my first breath of several million.

And I was so inspired by those words. Probably about 15 years after that, I was dropped off, but on my own. And I stood in that position, and I looked up, and all I could think of was, oh shit, what have I done, and to add value to that, I live near Stratford upon Avon where William Shakespeare wrote the Great Words.

So, I should be inspired a little bit, but I was thrown into it. It's like throwing a kid in the deep end and saying swim. I took an iPad with me as well because there were no bears. It's no danger at night, there are crevasses, but you navigate around them.

So, all you've got in Antarctica is strong kata winds coming off the glaciers around the air coming towards you. And then you get white hats from it. It's cold, and all this stuff, but all you're doing is just a slog on the way to the South Pole. And so, to have a little music in your ears, or a book or something to stimulate parts of the day was good.

I lost the iPod on the fifth day of the expedition. And then, for 45 days, I had nothing but my own brain to listen to. And in front of me, I had this white horizon with dark clouds and just this horizon.

And for somebody who's not experiencing that, it is driving me slightly mad and you start to then get complete clarity in your brain, because every day when we normally wake up, our senses switch on to light, color, sounds, touch, smells, movement, cars outside, trees, people saying hello and all this sort of stuff.

But when you are out with nothing in Antarctica, a bit like in The Matrix when Keanu Reeves was standing in that white void of a room, you've got nothing but silence and the wind blowing, and it can really muck your brain up. So, you need to focus somehow to get around that. And I couldn't do it.

I pitched my tent on the sixth day. I got upset with myself. My knee was hurting. My bindings had snapped. I was throwing up as well. So, I mean, all the stuff that you have when you start an expedition, I was sitting in my tent trying to find an excuse to give in, basically, and I phoned a few of my colleagues up to say, oh, my ski bindings have snapped I might have to stop the expedition.

And they were going, well, what have you thought of this? I was like, God, Yeah, you're right. And then, you know, I've got good friends who kind of can, oh, I lined up when I was in the UK to say, when I phone, I will talk me out of it.

So, they talked me out, and one particular guy, Mark Kelly, who's a super nice guy, talked me back onto my feet, and I started to move. But then, even when that happened, I started counting my ski steps to three thousand. And I stood then and thought, how the hell will I do this?

This is like the first week, and I've hardly covered any mileage, and I'm struggling like hell. So, I put my ski sticks in the ground, closed my eyes, and thought, where do I want to be on this planet at this moment?

Well, I've got two wonderful dogs, and I'm a real dog lover and animal lover over human beings. Unfortunately, I thought of a place I would visit in England where pine forests are next to the sea. And I walked my dogs through the pine forests.

I started to ski and walked them through the forest for about six miles. Then I brought them down to the beach, and I could smell the ocean and the pine, and I could see I was throwing sticks for my dogs and continuing my ski. And once I finished my dreamscape, I covered about five and a half nautical miles.

And that's how I made the South Pole. I created this world in my head and held onto thoughts. It was almost like I'm not a religious person. I have respect for most religions and thoughts. By the way, I don't say this for effect; I am a straight-down, honest person, right? And I know that solo expeditions will affect people in different ways.

A colleague of mine did it, and he just did it. He just skied, but for me, I'm an ordinary person who finds exploration difficult. So, I have to think through it and prepare well. So that moment in time when I'm trying to push through, it almost becomes spiritual to you that your brain opens up so much, you get so much clarity from the lack of colors and everything that you then it's a wonderful experience of complete brain clarity where you can think of stuff from your past.

I was seeing images of friends and people who have passed away. My mom had passed away 10 years before, and I never grieved because I dealt with it as a soldier. In Antarctica, I grieved the hell out of that stuff, crying and everything. And it was a wonderful thing to experience. It was a real sort of awakening for me to have that experience.

I'm telling you more than I usually do, but you know you're a good interrogator, so that's fine. I also felt a presence with me.

Now if somebody's listening to this, they'll go, okay, I've lost it now; Mark's annoying me. But I felt somebody with me. There was a time when I was moving up to the main plateau, which is three thousand meters up. So, the South Pole plateau is an attitude.

And I was finding it difficult to go up this Hilla carrier. And I was crying, thinking about Mom and all this. And I felt this pressure on my back and grip on my shoulder and somebody leaning into me and giving me these words of encouragement, whether it was my mom or someone else I don’t know. And then that happened probably like three, four, or five times.

After I reach the South Pole directly afterward, I flew to Canada and prepared for the North Pole. So, I did a back-to-back South North Pole expedition and trained with a wonderful guy named Richard Weber.

Richard Weber is an icon in modern-day polar exploration for me. He made a very humble North Pole coastal expedition seven times, and he made a return trip from the North Pole, which he's a nerd off. He's the Messy of the Polar world if you'd like for me, but really humble. And we did some open water training, and I thought, how do I tell this guy?

I mean, every normal guy. And I just said, Richard, this happened to me. And I told him about someone leaning in. He said it happened to me too, when he was coming back from the North Pole with his colleague; they were going towards a food drop. And they lost the idea of where the food drop was. So, he sent his colleague off to the right as a patent search, and as they moved forward, something was taking him over to this little location on the left.

And there are experiences of, you can read about, people coming down from Everest, and they're lost in a direction to the camp. And then the colleague comes up and says, oh, where have you been? And I'll lead you to the tent. They get to the tent it goes in the tent. Oh, so-and-so brought me here. And they say, well, he died about an hour ago.

You know, it's strange, which I'm sure that any people, you've got the different thought patterns on that, the belief of, well, that's something different. So incredible, and there are ordinary people like me telling those tales. And then there's the belief, well, the mind does adjust in stressful situations, and you can believe a lot of stuff, you know, but I felt it, whether it's true or not, who knows.

I know you're preparing for your next expedition. Can you tell us what it's about? And when does it start?

The only thing I can't tell you is the route because I'm keeping that sort of under wraps at the moment, mainly because it's a science-led expedition which I don't usually do. We did a little bit of science way back in the early days, but it's more educational-based and film based than we've been doing over the last few years.

But I'm going to go through quite a pure, untouched area of the Arctic which people might think, well, are you sure because it's all been discovered. It is discovered, but it's an area that people don't walk through. Even in the Inuit people don't go through there and especially on ski on foot anymore.

So, the three scientists who are leading scientists in the world are up now, but the website's set up for sponsors. We've got the sponsors now. Isn't that great?

And I was meant to go now, but I've delayed it for a year, and I'm in a privileged position of having the funding and then going in March 2024. So, the new website is now developed so that you can see what's going on.

So, in a few weeks, if you go onto Expedition Solo 100, you'll be able to see the science, the psychology as well, the filming, and everything else, which is attached to the expedition, but I'm doing some great science work, which I won't touch on at the moment. It's called "Solo 100" because it's 100 days alone in the Arctic.

Now let me explain one thing about this. I mentioned having an ego at the start. I still have an ego. We all have an ego, but my ego is very balanced because I'm old. I'm an old man now; I'm 56. So, it's kind of like you get older, and you're like you get grumpy. You know what I mean? So, you know who you are.

Guinness World Record jumped on, well, they spoke to me last year, wonderful people. We had a great meeting in London, well, actually, in 2019 before the pandemic. And we sat in London together, and they were going, this could be a Guinness World Record and all this, and I was like, okay, but the long list ever duration of human blah, blah, blah.

And I was like, okay, that's great, that's good. Didn't sit well with me. And I'm not slagging off Guinness World Records here. They're super nice guys. Anyway, we then got the scientists on board and a real depth of understanding of how this will be brilliant.

It's a big documentary we're doing narrated by Tom Hardy, who's a wonderful British actor, and we've been filming for six years in Africa, in Alaska and Everest and at the North Pole. So, as they say already, we've got great filming in the can so we will film this last bit with Tom's voice on top. So a brilliant documentary, great science, and other studies around it.

But I didn't feel comfortable about the world record logo because I thought if people see that, it will deflect away from the science and the reason why.

So, I had a meeting with them probably about a month ago, and I told them exactly what I said to you, and I said, I think I might take the logo off. And they said, well, what is the journey? I said, well, it will probably be the longest solo science expedition, something like that. And they went, right, we'll write a thing to say that because we want to draw attention to you.

And there are millions of children all over the world and adults who get their book every year for Christmas, and they go straight to certain pages, and this will really inspire them that there's science work going on in the purity of the polar regions for great reasons as well.

And I was like, brilliant, that's what I want. So that's what they're going to do. So, it's also a Guinness World Record attachment to it as well.

How do you prepare for such an expedition?

If there are leaders or businesspeople here who draw parallels with what I'm about to say, and you probably know this, it's given it a bit of a highlight of what you already know. I'm inspired by adventure at the core of it; how can I have a great adventure? If you do this for ego, then you will fail because it's freaking hard out there in the cold or on a mountain.

So, if you do it to wave a flag somewhere, you will not succeed. The extreme of where we go, you won't succeed. So, it's got to be an inside need to go and explore that inner childlike feeling of butterflies in the stomach of excitement.

So, what I do is I walk my dogs, and I live in the beautiful countryside. And I remember this particular occasion, I thought, well, what would be the pinnacle of everything that I do? And I came up with the concept of doing a hundred days alone and all the other stuff that I've said to you.

Then I came back home, put a whiteboard up, and put solo 100 in the center, and then I put finances, timeline, people involved, logistics, navigation, blah, blah, blah. All the way through marketing, funding the big one, putting it all there, writing down everything like that, and then walking away.

And then when I finished, after about 40 minutes, and this experience going on the board and also, it's like a painter having that inspiration and going up to a board and just painting crazily on the board.

I took everything in my head and dumped it on this whiteboard. And then what I did then was walk away again.

Being English, I think I made a cup of tea and went up to my garden during the summertime, and just took myself away from what was on the board and played with my dogs. And then, about an hour later, like an artist came back to his painting and sat down and looked at the painting with fresh, clear eyes.

And at that point, an artist will see imperfections that he needs to improve on, or she needs to improve on. And then, at that moment, I will sit back and look at what I've written and go over what needs to be changed. This needs to be done.

And in all honesty, pure all honesty, I go, can this be done? Yes, it can be done. Forget about the money, logistics, and everything at the moment of my problems. On the surface, can it be done? Yes, it can. And that's how you achieve great things because you develop creative ideas.

Think differently about life, creative ideas, and honestly, look at it. If you like, bring other people in of the same ilk, and then be inspired by the fact that it can be done at that point. Everything is free. You haven't spent a penny, but you must find the money.

And that is the entrepreneurial way. Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur?

Yeah, I do. I mean, it labels a one. I do because of the fact of what I've just told you really? You're taking something with potential, perceived as nothing, and you're creating something incredible involving hundreds and thousands of people. So yeah, there's an entrepreneur line in that.

Money has never been my driving force within all of this, it blinds you on your road to success, but you can't be naive to the fact that you need to earn money to pay a mortgage and live. So, you need to put that within your sponsorship package.

And I think that the sponsors that have worked with me over the years wouldn't work with me if I bullshitted and said, oh no, there's no money involved for me here. There needs to be money for you to live, for you to go and create this great product that they will benefit from.

So, when you go to a sponsor, it's not about them giving you money; it's about how they can join forces with you to enhance their brand and what they're doing in whatever shape or form it is. What they're looking for and what every business is looking for, forget expiration now the brand is you, the person.

So, you walk into a place and speak to somebody. If they like you, they like your energy; they like the direction and honesty of where you're going. You're kind of halfway there, really.

I've been in lots of sponsorship meetings where everything's failed. I mean, you've got to have that. Nothing's a failure. It's only an obstacle you have to pass through, and you gain energy from each failure if you want to be an entrepreneur.

But it's about sort of the moment where somebody will say, well, tell me about the trip Mark and I go, well, it's a ski track on pulling sleds and the school's involved, and they're looking at you, and they're just going sleep looking at you. And then suddenly you go, do you know what? Honestly, I really want to reach out to you, and then you say some incredible things.

And that's that moment where they go; we want to get involved with you. So, you've got to believe it inside of you. You've got to have that energy. So, when you go in there, you're going in there going, let me tell you about this incredible thing. This is remarkable. Just gimme your time and then gimme your money.


Connect With Mark Wood

Listen to the full conversation on Inter:views, Cracking The Entrepreneurship Code.

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