The Long Journey of Discovery and Innovation: Lessons from Columbus


columbusEvery October, the United States celebrates Columbus Day (well, maybe “celebrate” in the sense of “ignore”). Though now a controversial figure, the journey of Columbus has much in common with the journey of many innovators. It began with a vision, a dream that he could sail west and reach India to change the world of international trade. Like many inventors and entrepreneurs, his initial dream was wrong, but it did lead him in the right direction for one of the most important discoveries in our history. What many people don’t realize is how long it took him to turn his vision into reality. In 1484, after extensive study and development of his vision, he was determined to sail west and had (incorrect) calculations to back up his plan. But he needed funding for the project. He would spend nearly 8 years pitching his proposal to one European court after another, encountering delays and bureaucrats who slowly evaluated and then repeatedly rejected his proposal.

It’s not clear what kept him going and how he provided for himself during this time, but he persisted. Everything seemed to stand in his way, though. After having pursued all options and having received an absolute and final rejection from the Court of Spain, he was heading away to give France a try again, when he was called back and told that Queen Isabella of Spain, for reasons not known, had decided to support his proposal after all. A lucky break from a powerful ally–the kind of luck that often only comes through years of hard work and persistent evangelizing. The rest of the story, including many risks to be faced and conquered, is well known. Columbus would discover the New World and dramatically change the world.

As an entrepreneur, your initial vision is almost certainly wrong. There may be entire continents between your neatly drafted business plan and your intended destination, but the journey of discovery must begin. You will need funding and perhaps years of persistence. Endurance and vision is needed to get through the early years. Hopefully, you will find success–and may it be success free of controversy.

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