At Graduation time, valedictorians often reach for classic quotes to inspire the newly-minted graduates. Nowadays I expect they grab them from Google, and this quote from Mark Twain often gets selected:

“Life is short, break the rules, forgive quickly, kiss slowly, love truly, laugh uncontrollably, and never regret anything that made you smile. Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

As the Economics and Geography graduates no doubt recall, the Trade Winds referenced here refer specifically to the winds which blow in the tropics. These winds were critical in allowing Spanish sailors to predictably plan their trade journeys. Using wind to their advantage (and avoiding areas of storm and confrontation with nature) enabled them to develop a thriving business atmosphere. Trade goods once required long, difficult overland travel, but the Age of Sail (c 1500s) afforded the early adopters (the Spanish and Portuguese) to corner the market on the spice trade via its ships. Later other countries, such as the English and Dutch, would join in. Moreover, in the Indian ocean the Trades conveniently blow towards India in summer and toward Africa in winter.

The use of the trade winds enabled Spain to build an empire through trade. Colonization, and the attendant amassing of wealth, depended on solid knowledge of trade winds. You can experience The Age of Exploration at Madrid's Naval Museum which contains models such as this galleon, and the earliest still-existing map of the Americas.



The Networked Economy is acting like a new type of Trade Wind. It has been blowing for some time now, and some early adopters are taking advantage. It is worth looking at the winners and losers in the Age of Sail to see what lessons we can learn to take advantage of the Networked Economy.


For the Spanish, it was the galleon (pictured above) which was agile and manoeuvrable. In a Networked Economy, new technology may be needed to catch the wind. This may be a move to cloud software or an on-line contract repository. Don't try to fight the wind by keeping to old technologies such as a private Supplier or Customer portal.

New Business Models

Merchants following the Trade Winds actually created the need for a version 1.0 of the order and invoice documents that have still use today. It ushered in the first ever Global Economy.The new Networked Economy will likely need completely new Business Models.


New Trade Routes can be lucrative

While the Age of Exploration certainly had losers as well as winners, the much-loved poem "Cargoes" by Poet Laureate John Masefield expresses the beauty of trade:

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,

Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,

With a cargo of diamonds,

Emeralds, amythysts,

Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Keep the wind at your back

The Networked Economy makes many things so much easier. For example finding new sources of supply, optimizing cash or collaborating with a customer. Don't try to chart a new course against the wind, when tacking into the wind provides the greatest speed for the smallest effort.


At SAPAribaLive we will be exploring the way 21st Century trading relationships are reshaping the world as much as the galleon did for the Spanish in the 16th. The Galleon, Compass and Sextant changed Europe for ever. We will explore how technologies such as Big Data, Internet of Things and Business Networks can likewise transform our business.

The Trade Winds are Blowing: time to fill your sails. See you at SAP Ariba Live shortly.