Tuesday, October 15, 2013

CX Journey Lessons from Christopher Columbus

Image courtesy of Wikipedia
What can we learn about the CX Journey from Christopher Columbus' journeys?

Yesterday was Columbus Day in the U.S., a holiday that honors Italian sailor and navigator Christopher Columbus and commemorates his discovery of the New World (Western Hemisphere). The journey to the New World wasn't his first journey, but it was the one that opened up lasting contact for Europeans with the Americas. At the same time, he is largely criticized for destroying the peoples of the islands he visited on his various journeys; this has created a bit of controversy in recent years, causing Americans to question why we continue to celebrate this legend and icon in America's history.

I thought I'd take a look at his story and draw out some lessons for your CX Journey from his experiences. There were a lot more than I originally anticipated. Most are pretty self-explanatory.

Getting buy-in is tough. The idea for his most-memorable journey was rejected three times by other royals before the Spanish monarchy approved his plan; but even then, he had to continue to prove his purpose and the value in his idea.

Persistence and thick skin are good qualities to have. It took Columbus seven years to build his case/sell his idea to get the funding needed for the journey. Never give up.

You will encounter supporters and detractors along your journey. Embrace the supporters and ask them to help engage and win over the detractors.

Having the right vessel, as well as the right people on board, will make all the difference.

Just because you reached a destination doesn't mean you've arrived. Because you need to...

Know where you're going. It was Columbus' goal to find a route from Europe to Asia; instead, he bumped into the New World.

Uncharted waters are tricky. Good navigation skills are needed.

Have a good plan, though a map would be nice, too.

Identify and communicate your goals; define your desired outcomes.

You won't always get things right on the first try or the first time.

The people on the journey with you are as important as the ones you encounter along the way.

People-centric leadership far outweighs the alternative. How does the saying go? You'll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

In times of uncertainty, being honest and transparent and communicating openly will help to keep the crew calm. Columbus' crew had never been at sea for so long, and concerns mounted as to whether they'd reach their destination and then be able to sail home again. What did Columbus do? He lied to them about how far they'd gone so they would never really know how far from home they were.

When the journey seems long and unending and people start to question whether it's worth it, remind them of your purpose and the reward. Columbus promised his crew riches and reminded them that they've gone too far to turn back.

Create a sense of community among your own people, encouraging a culture of working together, to stem the tide of in-fighting and other distractions that cause you to take your eye off the ball.

Under-promise and over-deliver. Columbus promised gold and riches to the Spanish monarchy, but he was never able to deliver; this ultimately led to his downfall.

Create a good story that will outlive you. What will your legacy be?

Now that you've read the list thinking about Christopher Columbus, read it again through the customer experience lens. How will you apply these to make a difference within your organization? How is your CX Journey going?

By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination. -Christopher Columbus

Sources: All About Christopher Columbus, Christopher Columbus | Biography, Wikipedia


  1. Annette

    Very novel way to get people geared up for their CX journey. We're definitely sharing this one for all its practical tips -- and it's recognition that using CX to build competitive advantage demands a well aligned and focused team effort.


  2. Thanks for sharing this history online.

  3. Annette, I had no idea that you had a Columbus day.

    I am sure there is a message in that somewhere about knowing your customer as well.


  4. Hi Annette,
    Great analogy with fascinating insights that can be applied to the customer experience journey. I guess my question would be: did Columbus really know where he was going and what lay ahead and wasn't that one of his greatest feats......to have his crew follow him into the unknown?


    1. Thanks, Adrian. I suppose if they had done so unbegrudgingly, he would have been considered an amazing leader.

      Annette :-)

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