Christopher Columbus, who felt that it was faster to reach the Far East by sailing westward, was considered a fool by contemporaries.
Ironically, Columbus' critics may have been right. But we all know the result of his desire for a faster route to the lucrative Asian spice trade, and for that I call him a Fool. While there is a lot we will never know about the Genoa-born explorer -- and everything that we do know is not exactly savory -- the seafarer was not without Foolish attributes.
For starters, let's discuss the very reason why Columbus was so adamant about crossing the Atlantic Ocean. It wasn't for Coney Island hot dogs or those scrumptious Philly cheesesteaks. No way.
Columbus wanted to provide an alternate route to Asia, which was considered a valuable source of trade. The Portuguese were developing their own route that went around the coast of Africa, but Columbus felt he had a better idea. Prior to the Portuguese breakthrough, Europeans had to deal with the Ottoman Empire as a go-between. New routes to the Far East promised a liberating, cost-effective trade channel with India and others.
This sounds in many ways like the Wall Street of old. Just as clients were kept in the dark by self-serving full-service brokers, there was money to be made in being the middleman in the Europe-to-Asia connection. Ignorance always carries a price, and this was the Ottomans' premium. Empowering the end user is a noble notion, even if Columbus himself had personal interests at heart. These days, companies like E*Trade
Columbus also had a knack for perseverance. How many times were his proposals spurned in both Portugal and Spain before he was finally green-lighted by Queen Isabella for the first of his historic New World expeditions in 1492?
How many times have your convictions been challenged? Your time-tested beliefs claim that if you hang in there and you're willing to put up with the trading day's motion sickness, riches await at the other end of your journey. But how easy has it been to stay focused under these rough and cruel sea currents? As a Netflix
A seaman since his youth, Columbus did not sail alone. Like a well-diversified investor, Columbus took three ships in his 1492 expedition. The Santa Maria was the blue chip of the fleet, the heavyset flagship. The Pinta and Nina were smaller and faster.
So just as an investor should not place all of the eggs in one basket, Columbus was prepared. He was diversified. The Pinta needs a sail repaired? No problem. The Santa Maria gets grounded on a reef? Bummer, but life sails on.
His instruments of navigation were seemingly Foolish as well. While the trendy tool of the trade was the astrolabe, a metal disk used to map the position of heavenly bodies, Columbus was not one for that kind of pie-in-the-sky analysis. He favored his instincts, using dead reckoning. The process, which involves knowing where you once were to pinpoint where you are now, has its modern-day applications.
Lay down the financial pages for a second. Try to refrain from looking for scrolling ticker symbols at the bottom of every television channel. Why did you enter the stock market? Let dead reckoning have a shot at trying to figure out where you are now, and where you will eventually want to be. The past teaches plenty. It schools ignorance. And, as we have established earlier, perseverance pays the tuition.
Before it seems I might bleach out Columbus' shortcomings, let me pick out a few of the many ways his life's history runs counter to our philosophy. When a sailor aboard the Pinta first discovered land, in theory landing him a hefty reward, Columbus claimed the bounty as his own. When his second journey featured crew members unwilling to provide manual labor once ashore, the locals were enslaved. I could keep going, but isn't today some form of holiday?
We officially observe Columbus Day today. Ironically, we raise a glass to the man who helped make free trade possible by closing down our banking system. Ironically, we honor an Italian-born explorer with Portuguese roots who sailed under the Spanish flag, yet I write this in English. America rocks. You didn't make out so badly yourself, Christopher.
You broke the mold. You reinvented the rules. Most historians would agree that the modern world began in 1492. If you were alive today, you would have fit right in with our Motley Fool Rule Breakers newsletter service's growing community. There, sharp investors know that you sometimes have to sail West to go East. Then again, with some of the newsletter's overseas selections like NetEase
Happy Columbus Day!
This article was originally published on Oct. 8, 2001. It has been updated.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz attended Christopher Columbus High School in Miami, Fla. He was an Explorer. He owns shares in Netflix. Netflix and Amazon.com are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations.The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.