Celebrating Columbus’ Mistake
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Columbus never achieved his goal but we celebrate the outcome of his failure.

Columbus was obsessed with finding a westward route to Asia from Spain. Finding it would enrich not only his Spanish patrons, primarily Queen Isabella, but himself as well.

Columbus attempted and failed four times to find a westward route to Asia. On his first voyage in 1492 he failed to find a route to Asia but found North America. His second and third voyages were likewise failures but nonetheless led to his discovery of South America.

And on his fourth and final voyage in 1502 he crashed on a Central America beach. The site where Columbus ended his sailing career is where centuries later mankind would dig the Panama Canal providing ships the westward route to Asia Columbus set out to find.

Columbus failed to sail westward to Asia but succeeded in discovering North, South and Central America.

Like Columbus, I experienced an unexpected benefit from a failure.

As a controller at Motorola, I set out in 1986 to discover a more accurate cost management system to support Six Sigma. I discovered Activity Based Costing (ABC) but failed to convince Motorola senior management to implement it. So I resigned from Motorola and became an entrepreneur. I started an ABC software, consulting and training company, ICMS, Inc., in 1988. And in 2016 I’m still helping companies improve their cost systems 29 years later!

Moral of the Story

When your intentions are good, the outcome is usually positive, although not always specifically what you set out to achieve.

But when your intentions are evil, bad or self-centered, none of the results are ever good.

I believe Columbus would be shocked to know that we created a national holiday to celebrate what he considered a failure.

What outcomes of failure do you celebrate personally or professionally?

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Tom Pryor
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