I recently came across this article in my LinkedIn updates, and expected to find something interesting and perhaps even useful. After all, Christopher Columbus made a ton of money in some innovative ways. Instead, the article missed out on the real lessons Columbus left us all in the business community.
Allow me to fill in the blanks here. Here are five lessons from Columbus that almost anyone can use today.
Use prison labor. When Columbus arranged for his dangerous voyage, he went straight to the prisons for cheap and willing labor. By offering felons the choice between adventure and imprisonment, not only did he find sailors, he got some of the toughest individuals around at a bargain price. In the US today, slavery is actually still legal in prisons, so don’t hesitate to work that angle as best you can.
The populace exists to serve you. No matter where you set up shop, look for people you can bend to your will right away. On the first day Columbus encountered Native Americans in the Fall of 1492, he was already thinking this way, writing in his journal, “They should be good servants.” Seek out people that you can dominate by force, both economically and physically, and do so immediately.
Make examples of your enemies.Columbus was especially adept at letting everyone know what happened if he was crossed. Natives that refused to work for him would have their arms cut off or tongues ripped out, if not simply beheaded. One man Columbus caught taking corn had his nose and ears cut off and was sold into slavery. Those living examples may have been a more powerful incentive than the martyred. While murder, rape and mutilation are now illegal in most places, arson, theft or beatings are much more difficult track back to you.
Pay off the powerful. This may be the most important lesson that Columbus gives us today, as it is no less useful than it was in his time. When Columbus was arrested by the new governor for murdering literally thousands of people, his imprisonment didn’t last much longer than his trip to Spain. Having greatly enriched King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella with his exploits, he was freed and sent back to make more money.
If all else fails, sue. The easiest and safest lesson Columbus gives us is to use the power of the courts to your advantage. After his arrest he lost his posts of governorship and viceroy, so naturally, Columbus and his heirs sued the crown. Initial filing was in 1500, and his sons continued the suit until the 1530’s, until regaining control of land throughout the Caribbean, re-confirming Christopher’s admiralty, and being awarded a yearly income that was to be paid in perpetuity.
While we often portray Columbus as a simple sailor and intrepid explorer, he was a businessman in search of profit above all else. Whether providing young girls to his associates or forcing felons into labor, there are many business lessons we can learn from him that are just as useful today as they were 500 years ago.