Bruce Kirkby

Bruce Kirkby

Acclaimed Explorer | Writer | Photographer

Bruce Kirkby lives life on the edge. An acclaimed explorer, travel writer, and television host (with a degree in engineering physics), he uses his incredible adventures across the globe to provide real-world, practical lessons on risk management and change leadership. Bruce’s travels have taken him to the tip of the highest mountain and to the centre of the driest desert. He draws on these experiences to offer simple strategies to help people confront their fears and learn how to embrace change and growth to see lasting success, both personally and professionally.

With journeys spanning more than 80 countries and 2000 days, Bruce’s accomplishments include the first modern crossing of Arabia’s Empty Quarter by camel, a raft descent of Ethiopia’s Blue Nile Gorge by raft, sea kayak traverse of Borneo’s northern coast, and a coast-to-coast Icelandic trek. He also spent six months travelling to and living in a Himalayan Buddhist monastery with his young family — an experience that was chronicled on Travel Channel’s Big Crazy Family Adventure. He’s also the former host of CBC’s No Opportunity Wasted.

Bruce is the bestselling author of two travel books, and he is a regular columnist for The Globe and Mail. A multi-National Magazine Award winner, Bruce has also had his writing appear in The New York TimesEnRoute, Huffington Post, Explore, and Canadian Geographic. Bruce is also the winner of a prestigious Western Magazine Award, and his photography was selected by National Geographic as among “the most compelling adventure images of the decade.”


Building Grit: A Field Guide to Unleashing Any Team’s Natural Resilience

In today’s business world, talent and hard-work are no longer enough. Facing relentless disruption, distraction, burnout, and exhaustion, teams and organizations also require extraordinary levels of resilience to survive the storms and flourish. Grit has become the currency of modern success.

But what is grit? And how can we develop this elusive quality?

Grit is fundamentally a sense of confidence; the deep knowledge that we can respond to any challenge. And every single one of us possesses vast reserves of that resilience, although we don’t always know it — at least, not yet.

During more than 30 years of wilderness expeditions, Bruce Kirkby has guided teams through unthinkable challenges: high-altitude storms, debilitating injuries, helicopter crashes, hostage takings, etc. In environments where tapping out is impossible, he has witnessed the most unlikely individuals — elderly clients, middle-aged parents, and young children — rise to perform astonishing acts of bravery, endurance, strength, creativity, and kindness.

Bringing these lessons to the corporate world, Kirkby shares a systematic process for building workplace “grittiness”, and uncovering any team’s natural resilience. It begins with doing the little things right, seeking daily improvements, and challenging weaknesses. As challenges mount, a gritty team can manage its reaction to fear, discomfort, and failure while maintaining focus on what they can control. Supporting each other, they move steadily ahead, no matter how small the steps, embodying the Japanese proverb, fall down seven times, stand up eight.

Peppered with stories of high adventure, Kirkby’s entertaining and visually-stunning keynote is a reminder of the resilience that lies within us all, and a guide to accessing it.

Risk Management: Protecting Good People from Bad Decisions

Every risk is made up of two essential parts: an external threat, and our reaction to it. To be effective, risk management must account for both. Yet, modern governance models and safety practices tend to be highly quantitative in nature, relying on statistics and forecasts while overlooking the common psychological vulnerabilities — heuristics (mental shortcuts) and cognitive biases (systematic deviations from rationality) — that can weaken any decision.

With examples ranging from avalanches and grizzly bears to Himalayan expeditions and African white-water, Bruce Kirkby illuminates these universal blind-spots to leave audiences with a series of powerful yet easy-to-implement strategies, allowing teams to stay sheltered from crisis, yet open to opportunity.

Highly entertaining, laden with content, and immediately applicable, Kirkby’s keynote is a reminder that an engaged, enthusiastic risk culture offers the most certain path to both protecting current assets, and creating future growth.

Your session was one of the most effective explanations of risk management I have ever heard — from speakers within the industry or beyond. It combined a solid explanation of principles with fascinating real-life examples, and was relevant for the entire spectrum, from risk neophytes to seasoned professionals.”

Executive Director, Preparation, Planning and Risk, Government of Alberta

Change Leadership and Management: Navigating the Uncertainty, Unfamiliarity, and Discomfort of Growth

Between today’s comfortable routines and tomorrow’s possibilities, lies a maze of uncertainty, unfamiliarity, and discomfort. The ability to confidently and competently complete this journey — the archetypal journey of all human growth — stands as one of the greatest determinants of success, both organizational and personal.

Unfortunately, there is a broadly-held assumption that teams and individuals either have the magical ability to lean into fear and seek sustained uncertainty, to stomach failures, and brush aside judgements — or they don’t.  And that is simply not true. Navigating change and growth is a trainable, repeatable skill.

Drawing on experiences from three decades of expeditions, and sharing his learnings from the competitive realms of television production, photography, and writing, Bruce Kirkby lays out the universal obstacles to change and growth — fear, failure, judgement, crisis, and paralysis — and shows audiences how to transform these obstacles into signals, illuminating the path towards future innovation, creativity, and success.

“I have seen plenty of keynote speakers over the years, and without question, your Comfort Zone address ranks among the very best. Perfect tone, perfect message, perfect presentation.”

Global EVP, Open Text

Focusing On What Matters: Strengthening Focus and Attention amid an Increasingly Distracted Workplace

The modern workplace is awash with distractions: texts, internet, social media, phone calls, beeps, tweets, flashing alerts. The average Canadian worker checks email almost 200 times daily, and switches tasks 37 times every hour. Such cognitive overload erodes our basic abilities to focus, make decisions, and advance objectives. The results are often devastating, and include lowered productivity, compromised quality, missed deadlines, and lost revenue.

With travel adventure stories ranging from the Himalaya to Asia and the Arctic, Bruce Kirkby lays out the challenges facing the modern mind, and shares a series of simple habits and exercises designed to keep it in top shape. Think of these like flossing your teeth, or doing a burpee for your brain — they don’t take long or require much, but they will make a world of difference.