In the words of darts commentator Sid Waddell, "When Alexander of Macedonia was 33, he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds left to conquer." As we now know, Alexander the Great was sorely mistaken. In fact, there were whole continents he hadn't bothered to find. No one could possibly accuse the egomaniac Alexander of lacking ambition, but often ambition can be constrained by belief — in his case, belief that there wasn't any more world out there.
Two millennia later, Royal Naval officer Captain James Cook (b.1728) would fill in the last of the gaping holes in Alexander's worldview, including Newfoundland, New Zealand, Antarctica and the rather hard to miss Australia. Cook was a skilled cartographer and, after mapping Newfoundland, declared his intention to go "farther than any man has been before me, but as far as I think it is possible for a man to go." Over three voyages he became the first European to land on the east coast of Australia, circumnavigated New Zealand and had the first European contact with Hawaii. He sailed through oceans where maps of the time were just blank spaces inscribed with 'Here be sea monsters'.
Cook's drive and enthusiasm for the unknown are qualities any good businessperson should have. He also had a very understanding wife and, though his average commute to and from work was around three years, was as dedicated to his marriage as he was to his job, given that he fathered six children.
Sadly he overstretched one negotiation, after he tried to take the king of Hawaii hostage in order to retrieve some stolen boats. On Valentine's Day 1779, he was bludgeoned, stabbed, disembowelled and baked on the beach.
Like Alexander, except with a ship and a sextant instead of a horse and a bad attitude, Cook had no more worlds left to conquer. But others were waiting for the likes of Amundsen, Gagarin and Armstrong. And yet more are waiting still. There's always something new to discover.
Words: Derek Harbinson
Read more: business lessons from Jane Austen.
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