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. Kirkby’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, Kirkby’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. Kirkby is also the former host of CBC’s No Opportunity Wasted.

Kirby is the bestselling author of two travel books and a regular columnist for The Globe and Mail. A multi-National Magazine Award winner, Kirkby has also had his writing appear in The New York TimesEnRoute, Huffington Post, Explore, and Canadian Geographic. He 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: Simple Strategies for Developing Any Team's Resilience

In today’s frenetic business world, overloaded organizations face relentless disruption and change. What was once a corporate war for talent has evolved into a war for grit. Growth and achievement are now determined by a team’s ability to bounce back from setbacks, move past obstacles, and maintain enthusiasm in the face of stiff headwinds. Grit has become the new currency of success.

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

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

Bringing these lessons to the workplace, Kirkby shares simple habits and routines for building any team’s “grittiness”. His core message: every challenge we face offers two divergent outcomes. We either struggle against adversity and are slowly worn down, or we strategically use those difficulties to sharpen our skills and bring out the best in our organizations.

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

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.

Grit, Resilience, and Taking Action Amid the COVID Storm

Grit is paradoxical in nature, and often elusive. Attempting to simply plow through disruption becomes a grind — we burn out and the harder we try, the less gritty we become. Willpower alone is never enough.

But, if we learn to place our attention on the fundamentals of transformation — purpose, practice, and process — grit flows naturally and spontaneously in any organization.

In this interactive, virtual presentation, Bruce Kirkby demonstrates the fundamentals of bringing grit to life, and goes deeper to tackle the daunting challenges we’re facing in today’s COVID slowdown.

With more than thirty years of experience as a wilderness guide, Kirkby has led teams through unthinkable challenges — helicopter crashes, hostage takings, crocodile attacks, grizzly bears, avalanches, medical emergencies, and political unrest. He offers a message of reassurance and hope, that even amid the darkest gales, every one of us can make a difference, and help move our team closer to the summit that awaits.

This virtual presentation runs 45-60 minutes in length and can include both a keynote and Q&A. Kirkby is also available for interview-style sessions (facilitated by an internal team member) to allow for deeper customization to address a team’s specific needs and challenges.