Lead Like Columbus: Make A Mistake


“In fourteen hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
He had three ships and left from Spain; He sailed in sunshine, wind and rain.”

In January of 1492, explorer Christopher Columbus received financing from the king and queen of Spain to explore a new route to the East Indies by sailing westward. The monarchs hoped to enter the lucrative spice trade with Asia, particularly Japan. Columbus hoped to create a name for himself and gain financing for future voyages.

After months of planning, Columbus finally set out on August 3rd with 90 men aboard three ships: the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Santa Clara, nicknamed the Niña. He stopped in the Canary Islands for repairs and supplies, readying for the long voyage to Japan. After five more weeks at sea, the lookout spotted land. Columbus had done it, or so he thought.

In fact, Columbus had not reached Japan at all. His small fleet made landfall on an island he called San Salvador; known today as the Bahamas. Columbus continued exploring the nearby islands, convinced he had made it to part of Asia. But his report to Spain ushered in an era of exploration and colonization of the Americas. For next voyage, Columbus was provided with 17 ships, 1,200 men, and orders to establish permanent colonies in the “New World.”

Things don’t always work out like we planned. Often, the results fall far short of the intended goal. But if approach it with the right attitude, failure doesn’t have to be a negative experience. We can learn from it, discover new worlds, and create opportunities for growth.

Too many times, I feel our response to failure is all wrong. We look for a scapegoat. We identify excuses. And then we retreat – we create new rules and restrictions in an attempt to avoid future failures. Missing the mark has become unacceptable.

I’m not saying we should anticipate failure or dismiss every error. Indeed there are times when failure shouldn’t be an option. Some miscalculations are too costly, either to our reputation or the bottom line, to ignore. But we have to be careful of taking the desire for perfection too far.

You can’t live life, or grow a business, by avoiding risk or loss. You have to adopt the explorer’s spirit, like Columbus did, and venture out into the unknown. You have to aim high, and be prepared for whatever new world lies over the horizon. After all, ships were made for sailing.

Happy Columbus Day.

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