WARNING: Spoiler alert - Listen to the podcast here
“I wanted to explore like them, to live like them.”
Bertrand Piccard recalls being a child with the world at his feet, inspired by his heroes to explore it. It’s a feeling many of us have had: a sense of awe and the desire to walk in the footsteps of our idols.
Bertrand is no stranger to new opportunities and welcomed the chance to speak with two students, Amber and Alex from Nord Anglia International School Rotterdam, for A Little Bit of Genius. His open nature and fresh perspective are energising and appealing to all generations. From the start, we are launched into his mind and mentality.
“You know why I was successful?” he begins. “Because I took all of the opportunities that life was presenting to me. Each time I could have said ‘I didn’t want it’... It’s not just that you have an idea ... you need to work for it.”
It’s one thing to hear your class teacher say “work hard”; it’s another to see it presented as part of an exciting, almost fantastical (yet true) story.
Jules Vernes, author of
Around the World in Eighty Days, soon emerges as one of Bertrand’s many heroes. “Vernes was an inspiration for my grandfather, my father and for me.” Bertrand adds a philosophical dimension to what is otherwise an obvious inspiration for an explorer: “What I love about Jules Vernes is he is not writing science fiction…He is writing what will happen”; “Almost everything he wrote happened”. It’s the kind of visionary thinking that Bertrand is charmingly attuned to, as we later discover.
From “crying like a child” in the middle of the Mediterranean on the brink of his dream collapsing, to joking about how the sky is not the limit (“It’s the fuel!”), Bertrand explains the variety of emotions he endured on his notorious balloon adventure. We are invited into a riveting tale that shows both the energy and the resilience required to accomplish record-breaking feats.
For Bertrand, resilience is not only about hard work and emotional endurance. He also speaks about calculating risk, maintaining belief, and learning from others. It opens up the conversation, showing that resilience amounts to so much more than weathering a storm or two in life; it is a learned, trained, and practiced skill with many facets.
Alex and Amber deftly navigate Bertrand’s experiences and life lessons: from his living in a balloon for nearly three weeks, to a mid-flight discussion of the great value in teamwork, before landing on Bertrand’s latest adventure: tackling climate change. In this crowded theatre of Greta Thunberg scolding delegates at the United Nations, David Attenborough breaking Instagram, and Donald Trump withdrawing the USA from the Paris Agreement, we are again reminded of Bertrand’s lion-like fearlessness.
“Ringing the bell and saying there are problems is not enough. I want to show there are solutions.” It’s a bold and admirable ethos in the current era of whistle-blowing, heated protest and the battleground of social media, where many causes are brought to the popular conscience. Trying to solve them, like Bertrand, is an admirable and impressive ambition.
For Bertrand, overcoming climate change is much about diplomacy as it is about activism and technological developments. Whilst clearly enthused by (and an expert on!) developments in green travel opportunities, he is candid about the realities of trying to make these developments hit the mainstream through government and business lobbying. As he plainly puts it, “You have to learn to speak the language of the people you talk to”.
At the end of this whistle-stop tour through Bertrand’s life, career and outlook, we are left with the sense of having taken a memorable journey. His closing remarks to Alex, Amber and our listeners are aspirational: “I hope that students will understand that they can be explorers, they can be adventurers, they can be creative, they can be innovators, as soon as they go beyond what they have learnt.” There is also a rallying cry for “more wisdom, more respect, and more compassion” in our complicated world.
Bertrand’s final thought is characteristically profound and a fitting end to a highly enjoyable podcast: “it’s very important … to understand the choice we have, like in a balloon: to drop the ballasts, to change altitude, and find other directions in life”.
Listen to the podcast now on Spotify, Ximalaya (in China), Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud and Google Podcasts. A Little Bit of Genius is also easy for Nord Anglia students to access on Global Campus.