Gaining Some Perspective

by Paul Starsoneck

I just finished an excellent new book, Conquerors by Roger Crowley, which left me thinking about how leaders make decisions.  The book begins in the latter fifteenth century when the King of Portugal faced a decision about investing in exploration to open a sea route for trading spices with the Indies.  Spices were highly valued commodities and European trade for them was monopolized in Venice.

The King had Christopher Columbus in his court seeking backing for an expedition to find a sea route to the Indies by sailing west.  He also had an expedition underway by Diego Cao, a Portuguese explorer seeking a route around the African continent.   In a time where limited geographic information was available, this is the information the King had to make his decision.  What would you do?

  • The King’s mathematician and mapmaker said Columbus had underestimated the circumference of the earth, 18,000 versus 25,000 miles (TRUE)
  • “Explorer Cao reports of the eastward-inclining coast.  For the King, the Indies were just around the corner.”
  • “The King, because he saw this Christopher Columbus to be boastful and pushy in talking up his abilities, and deluded and fanciful about the position of the island of Japan, gave him little credence.”

Do you make the same decision as the King?  Before you decide, take a look at this brief video:

Click Here -> Decision Making Perspective (25 second video).

So the King decides to send Columbus away.  Years later he finds backing from the Spanish monarchy for his western route exploration.  Columbus is unsuccessful in discovering a trading route to the Indies, but opens the New World colonial opportunities for Spain.  Cao’s expedition ends in frustration near the mouth of the Congo River, less than halfway to the horn of Africa.  “Either death or embarrassment ensued for Cao, who was condemned to disgrace, obscurity”.  It would be more than a decade before subsequent Portuguese explorers would successfully round of the horn of Africa, and open a trade route to the Indies.

When organizations make important decisions they need as much information as available, but that may not be enough.  It can be invaluable to get the perspective of others from as many angles as possible to aid in the decision making process.

If you are hiring a key leader, starting strategic or resource development planning, you want the perspective of your organization from many sources.  Clients sometime undervalue the Organizational Assessment phase of engagements where the perspectives of leaders, board members, staff, funders, donors, clients, volunteers, and others are sought.  An impartial aggregation of viewpoints of your organization can be a crucial element to making the right decision.

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