Famous Risk Takers: Christopher Columbus

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By the late 15th century few people involved in exploration believed the world was flat.  However, that still left the question of how round the Earth was.  It was not possible to carry enough food for a circumnavigation of the globe.  So, for anyone setting off around the globe getting the distance they’d need to travel wrong might mean death.  Columbus knew that he had to find land.

Projects need credibility to get off the ground

It took Columbus seven years to raise the funding and the crew to make his voyage across the Atlantic. Columbus first tried to get funding for his scheme in 1485 from the Portuguese.  However his calculations for the circumference of the globe were not accepted and Columbus failed to get funding for his mission.  It took him seven long years before he finally received backing from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain and from a group of independent financiers.  Columbus didn’t get anywhere until  he had credible plans.

Columbus’ fantastic incentive scheme

Despite receiving support, Columbus wasn’t really expected to return from his voyage across the ocean.  So although the deal he struck with his investors rewarded him very favourably, most of his terms were accepted.  These included:

  • The rank of governor of any new lands discovered;
  • 10% of the revenue (not profit), in perpetuity (which even now is still a very long time);
  • An option to purchase shares in any new venture from any new islands or mainland discovered.

Why on Earth did Columbus get such generous terms?  I’m sure that his backers simply didn’t think that he’d make such a significant find.  An island maybe, but not a whole continent.

Columbus’ gamble pays off

Altogether Columbus made four crossings of the Atlantic.  Each voyage led to new discoveries, although Columbus never managed to find his way to Asia as he intended:

  • His first voyage led to the discovery of the islands Columbus called San Salvador in what are now better known as the Bahamas;
  • His second voyage took him to Dominica, Guadeloupe, Nevis, Jamaica and Cuba;
  • His third voyage took him to Trinidad, Tobago, Grenada and to the South American mainland;
  • On his fourth and final voyage Columbus explored the Central American countries of Honduras and Panama.


Taking risks isn’t just about minimising mistakes.  Taking risks can also lead to spectacular successes if your gamble pays off.  By taking calculated risks you can achieve success, glory and riches beyond the dreams of most people, like Columbus.  Or you can just take quiet satisfaction from delivering your project on time.