Case | HBS Case Collection | October 2008 (Revised February 2014)

The Northwest Passage

by Herman B. Leonard and Peter Brannen


Following dozens of failed expeditions to "discover" the NW passage, a Norwegian adventurer employs a new approach that emphasizes rigorous preparation, a lighter, quicker style, and a willingness to adapt to the inhospitable Arctic environment and its people. The case summarizes the bleak history of the exploration of the Northwest Passage over several centuries, examining expeditions that employed a broad spectrum of strategies, leadership styles and objectives. The case then focuses on Roald Amundsen who attempted to complete the passage in the early 20th century using a number of novel techniques, an encyclopedic knowledge of Arctic exploration and an appreciation of and willingness to adapt to local Inuit customs.

Keywords: Independent Innovation and Invention; Planning; Problems and Challenges; Risk and Uncertainty; Decision Choices and Conditions; Leadership Style; Adaptation; Canada;


Leonard, Herman B., and Peter Brannen. "The Northwest Passage." Harvard Business School Case 309-067, October 2008. (Revised February 2014.)