Persistence, Luck and Vision

15/09/2009 at 10:30 Leave a comment


Columbus had a different way of thinking….

I get inspiration from lots of sources. This was a National Press Club luncheon in 1996, but I liked how Lester Thurow, Dean of the Department of Mathematics, MIT closed up his remarks.

I have shared this story with many at the end of workshops I have facilitated. I think fundraising is a lot like Columbus as Professor Thurow, stated so well……see bold below. A short read, enjoy and share.

“Columbus was smart in the sense he knew the world was round*. But in MIT terms, Columbus was not terribly swift when it came to mathematics, because Columbus had to make two mathematical calculations to figure out how much water to put on the boats. The first calculation: what’s the diameter of the earth? And when Columbus estimated that, he made it one-third too small. The second question he had to answer was, how far did Marco Polo walk? And when he estimated that answer, he made it one-third too big.

Now if you subtract a number that is one-third too big from a number that is one-third too small, you make what is called a major mathematical error. And Columbus estimated that the distance from the Canary Islands to the East Indies was 3,900 nautical miles. It’s actually 13,000 nautical miles.

And if you look at the amount of water that Columbus put on his ships, before he got halfway there, he and all of his men would have died of thirst and the name of Columbus would never have come down in the history books.

Now, I suppose one moral you could read out of this story is it’s more important to basically be lucky than smart, because it just happens to be that exactly 3,900 nautical miles from the Canaries, one runs into the Americas. The Americas were full of gold and they made the Spanish empire for the next 300 years.

But that would be the wrong moral of the story, because you’ve got to remember something else.

It took Columbus seven years to persuade Ferdinand and Isabella to finance the expedition. It took enormous persistence. And without the enormous persistence, he never would have been in a position to have the enormous good luck. Secondly, and even more importantly, he had to have the vision of doing it in a different way or he could not have had the good luck.

And so in closing, I wish you intelligence. But more than intelligence, I wish you good luck. And more than good luck, I wish you persistence. And most of all, I wish you a vision for a new world.”

And I know every great fundraiser has intelligence, persistence and vision. It isn’t about luck so much.

*Small footnote, I learned there is a lot of debate about whether Columbus was the FIRST dude to think the world was round.

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