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El Faro de Colon
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On Oct. 12, 1492 -- 2,400 miles into the Atlantic Ocean -- just where he thought it would be, Christopher Columbus found land. Unfortunately, he had not landed near Asia, where he had intended to be.

Was Columbus a success or a failure? In terms of navigation, he tried to make thorough preparations. Because he was taking an unknown route, he sought to minimize other unknown factors. He knew the lives of him and his crew, as well as the success of his venture, depended on it.

Columbus extensively researched the available geographic literature, consulted the leading European geographers, and studied the best charts and maps. His research left him with no doubt that it was possible to reach the East by sailing west, but no one had done so. Columbus, armed with his research and his own experience as a seaman in the Atlantic, aimed to succeed where no one had dared. But Columbus was not wealthy, so he lobbied the Spanish government to finance his quest. The most he could obtain were three small ships and their crews, but they were satisfactorily equipped … to make a 2,400-mile voyage.

The realization that he had landed elsewhere than the Orient must have been a blow to Columbus. In fact, it was probably a personal crisis, but he managed the crisis well. While it was becoming obvious to his crew that they were not in the Orient, Columbus pressed on, emphasizing (according to his journal) such things as the wonder of the landscape, the beauty of trees and birds, the wideness of natural harbors. Until circumstances gave him little choice other than to return to Spain, Columbus continued to point to voyage successes even as he failed in his initial goal. Resolutely, he continued to point forward.

Where Columbus succeeded, he demonstrated positive character traits that we can emulate:

1. Creativity: While the Portuguese explorers pursued a route to the Orient by sailing near to and around the African continent, whose extent was then unknown, Columbus thought outside the box by conceiving a route to the Orient by sailing west, with no land in sight. Although educated Europeans knew the world was round, few thought Columbus's concept was practical.

We can be creative by taking known facts and looking at them a different way or coming to a different conclusion than other people. We may not always obtain the results we are looking for, but our creativity can open doors for others.

2. Quiet Confidence: Once he developed his concept, Columbus had to present himself as reasonable, knowledgeable and experienced in order to win the trust of those who could finance his voyage and, later, to earn the trust of the men he would command. To give in to self-doubt would have doomed the expedition.

Besides preparing ourselves physically, intellectually and spiritually for a mission, we have to constantly demonstrate by our conduct and bearing that we are prepared. To gain the confidence of others, we must show we are confident in ourselves.

3. Teamwork and Collaboration: Although personally ambitious, Columbus also recognized he would have to work with others in pursuing his goals. After he had won friends in the Spanish government, he had to cooperate with those whose interests in his venture were different from his. One of his captains constantly disagreed with Columbus's decisions. At some points, crew members were on the verge of mutiny. Columbus even had to deal with people unknown to him who spoke a language unknown to him. Still, he managed to hold things together.

We need to do more than just get along with others or put our differences aside; we must embrace diversity, employing the diverse talents and ideas of others if we want to excel in achieving our mission. This is important both among the people within our organization and with people in other organizations.

Determination: It took Columbus years to obtain the necessary backing to make his first voyage across the Atlantic. He had lobbied other governments before Spain, which had become united only with the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella. Once he embarked on his historic venture, he determined to make it succeed. He continued on subsequent voyages to try to find routes to the Orient and, short of that, other rewards.

4. We can't allow ourselves to be discouraged. We may encounter numerous delays, setbacks and even defeats, but if we want our mission to succeed, we must persevere.

For all his faults -- and regardless of some unfortunate consequences of his famous voyage -- Columbus, as historian Barnet Livinoff writes, pointed "history in a new direction. All who followed … were spurred by [his accomplishment] rather than any other feat of navigation…." But most importantly, Columbus defied, in the author's words, "the blockage of discouragement."