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Christopher Columbus

Recently I read a story about Christopher Columbus (1451-1506), who challenged the conventional wisdom of his day by choosing to sail west to reach the Indies rather than east, the way every other mariner had gone. That was a commitment that set him apart. He did not reach India, but his discovery of the New World was a quantum leap forward in people’s view of reality. One might think that this new approach would have meant that Columbus was highly regarded, but it seems that in his day the opposite was the case. One day as he was eating a jealous colleague ridiculed his “discovery” saying that anybody could have done that! Columbus made no hasty reply, he simply took a hard-boiled egg that was on the table and invited all those present to stand it on its end. They all attempted it but of course failed. Columbus then took the egg and tapped it on the table, denting one end and thus left it standing. “That’s cheating!” they all said, “We could all have done that!” To which Columbus replied “Yes, if you had only known how, and once I showed you the way to the New World, nothing was easier than to follow it!”

Stephen Covey in his book Principle-Centered Leadership (where I pinched the above story) summarises the challenge before us:

“Amost every significant breakthrough is a result of a courageous break with traditional ways of thinking.” (p.67)

How are you coping with the demand to find new approaches to old problems? The pressure might come from grand initiatives like the Strategic Reform Program or Air Force Improvement or simply aging infrastructure, buildings or processes. In order to face those challenges we require a totally new approach, a radical paradigm shift, but make no mistake, those changes are never comfortable, as Columbus found out.

What are you doing to deal with all those changes and think in new ways? Are you open to new ideas or fighting desperately to hold on to your traditional turf? Not only has the map changed, maybe you need a new compass to navigate this new world. As Covey would affirm maybe it is time to go back to basics, and look again at the foundations of your life. What are your guiding principles – the values that govern your life? Mine are founded on the Bible, and though some might say that is cheating, I know it works! If you want some help with navigating a book like that, you know where to find me.

Chaplain Ian S Whitley

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