Following a Vision Takes Courage

August 3: I imagine that moment before the voyage. The docks are relatively quiet. Most inbound ships have already tied up, unloaded, and released their crews to sleep or liberty. The liquid golden light of an early summer evening in the south of Spain washes over three ships waiting for the tide to turn.

Maybe Juan Niño, owner of the smallest of the three, a caravel named Santa Clara,[1] paces the docks. Or maybe, because his own plans for the ship were commandeered by the crown, he can’t bear to see it chase the sun westward, over the edge of the world, and has retreated to drown his sorrows in wine.

Planning Isn’t Always Pretty

This quiet moment took years of planning—arguing, debating, proposing, waiting, negotiating, losing, arguing, finagling, convincing, buttering up, losing, and so on. Charts were thrown across tables. Important people scoffed. Rivals outmaneuvered the guy with the vision. Fourteen long years of that. That’s slow even by university committee standards.

In fact, the powers-that-be who finally agreed to the crazy venture were so skeptical, they promised hefty bonuses to the organizer. When he actually delivered and they reneged, the lawsuits lasted three hundred years. Really. (Well, OK, 298.)

Success May Be Different than You Expect

By that time, the colonists who followed in the wake of the dreamer had become citizens of a new country on that formerly uncharted continent. America, they called it—not for the guy who argued, finagled, and planned, but for the one who came a few years later and correctly identified it as a new continent, not the edge of Asia.

Columbus was wrong on many counts, and wrong-headed on many others. He wasn’t the first to discover what we think of as the New World. He wasn’t the last to push his own vision and agenda. But his vision and his planning and his successes did redraw the maps.

Face the Dragons, But Not Alone

Whatever perils and uncertainties your institution faces, you need a plan and a new map. Columbus had a team that included both those close to him (his brother and a childhood friend) and those from outside his inner circle who knew things he needed, like how the trade winds worked or what could get him in front of Ferdinand and Isabella. Talk to us about planning, strategy, and tactics. The dragons may turn out to be lions or typhoons; we’ve sailed this way before.


[1] We remember this ship by the owner’s name, in the feminine form suited to ships: the Niña.

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