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Letters to a Young Manager

Columbus, #248
LTYM > Strategy

Dear Sophie,
It's good that you've been asked to provide input to the strategic planning process. And it's a good question to ask where to start!

History is full of examples. Consider Christopher Columbus. He set a destination (Indies), had a strategy (shorter route than the silk road), sold senior management (Isabella) on the investment, was open to new discoveries (America) and made lemonade out of lemons-- capitalized on the unintended outcome. Not bad.
    "His initial 1492 voyage came at a critical time of growing national imperialism and economic competition between developing nation states seeking wealth from the establishment of trade routes and colonies. In this sociopolitical climate, Columbus's far-fetched scheme won the attention of Queen Isabella of Spain. Severely underestimating the circumference of the Earth, he hypothesized that a westward route from Iberia to the Indies would be shorter and more direct than the overland trade route through Arabia. If true, this would ensure for Spain control of the lucrative spice trade — heretofore commanded by the Arabs and Italians. Following his plotted course, he instead landed within the Bahamas Archipelago at a locale he named San Salvador. Mistaking the North-American island for the East-Asian mainland, he referred to its inhabitants as "Indians"." [1]

What do we see in this case? Strategy is not boat building; it's about picking a destination. But having a good boat and adequate supplies (operations) is essential. Just don't mistake the better boat for the strategy. Oh, and be ready for failure along the way; it's an opportunity to adjust your thinking.
Best regards,

[1] See Wikipedia for the source:


Strategy is destination and discovery

Discussion Questions:

1) Can you think of examples in your organization that are "boat building" rather than destination planning?
2) Can you plan to fail, or just plan to succeed?
3) How would you reframe the story-line in the Columbus story when they did not reach the Indies?

For Further Reading:

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