— Outback Steakhouse (@Outback) October 12, 2015
Every Columbus Day, some of the less historically (to say nothing of morally) inclined out there like to draw fatuous links between the contemporary cult of entrepreneurship and the legacy of Christopher Columbus’ conquest—err, startup—of America some 500 years ago. Who better to take life and leadership lessons from than a famously venal and cruel 15th-century authoritarian sea captain whose own men overthrew him?
— Penina Rybak (@PopGoesPenina) October 11, 2015
(Wikipedia attributes this bland affirmation to Andre Gide, from The Counterfeiters (1925).
Today in 1492, Christopher Columbus left Palos, Spain with three ships. The voyage led him to what is now known as the Americas #innovation
— andrew corn (@acornnyc) August 3, 2015
Columbus was the “entrepeneur’s entrepreneur,” whatever that means, says a blogger for VentureBeat. The Harvard Business Review, always a reliable source for insipid business mythologies, argues that Columbus’s colonization of the Caribbean made him the original disruptive innovator (but this author, a business professor named Patrick Murphy, covers all his bases and sensitively concedes that “those colonial activities, to be sure, turned wicked.” To be sure.). A market analyst for Equities.com takes the analogy a bit further, calling Spain’s Queen Isabella the first “venture capitalist.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce honored the holiday with a listicle called “5 Evergreen Lessons from a 15th-Century Entrepreneur,” which is full of penetrating insights like this:
There was no GPS, no internet, no Weather Channel, or petroleum. In 1492—similar to now—entrepreneurs were dependent on the knowledge and inventions of their predecessors.
It’s probably pointless to point out that, even if we concede that “entrepreneurship” means anything now, it means less than nothing in the 15th century. Yet if your historical consciousness is so shallow that you can do little more than observe that people back then didn’t have GPS, it would do no good to get down into the weeds of colonial mercantilism, feudal patronage, slave labor, etc. And remember, stuff was different back then.
Christopher Columbus was a bold entrepreneur during a much different era of moral and global boundaries. How do we try him fairly today?
— Robert Reoch (@RobertReoch) October 12, 2015
But then there is this, on Columbus’ lessons in product “evangelism”:
Here’s what Columbus had to say to “the very high, very excellent, and puissant Princes, King and Queen of the Spains” on the subject of “evangelism.” In the Journal of the First Voyage of Columbus, the Genoese entrepreneur described the Taíno people of the modern-day Bahamas this way:
They should be good and intelligent servants, for I see that they say very quickly everything that is said to them; and I believe that they would become Christians very easily, for it seemed to me that they had no religion.
On the other hand, this historical visionary aims to debunk a few myths about Columbus the entrepreneur:
(Elsewhere in his post, this author argues that one of the key lessons of Columbus’ lobbying of the Spanish Court is that “‘no’ really means ‘no, for now,’” revising and repurposing an anti-rape slogan as justification for imperial conquest.)
And in response to efforts in Seattle to dump Columbus Day in favor of a holiday honoring America’s indigenous people, Randy Aliment of the Italian-American Chamber of Commerce for the Northwest told the Post-Intelilgencer:
Christopher Columbus was this country’s first and bravest entrepreneur. He had a noble vision, gathered a team, and had the initiative to solicit funds for his high risk startup from the king and queen of Spain.
…to which I can only echo Twitter user Vlad here:
— Vlad Verano (@3rdplacepress)