In our more poetic moments, health care consultants like to talk about how health system leaders must "navigate rough waters." We usually mean something rather more prosaic: that CEOs must steer their hospitals through mega-mergers, declining margins, and so on.
It's difficult to overstate the peril of traveling by sea during much of human history. In just one day in 1707, four Royal Navy ships sank off the Isles of Scilly, killing as many as 2,000 sailors—simply because the ships' navigators had lost their way.
The Scilly disaster was far from unique. Until the mid-18th century, sailors at sea often didn't know where they were on the globe.
Navigators weren't totally lost; they'd known for centuries how to find their latitude. But as Dava Sobel writes in her terrific book Longitude, there was no practical way to determine how far east or west they'd sailed. Navigators relied on techniques such as dead reckoning that amounted to educated guesswork.
At best, a lost ship might show up weeks late to its intended destination. At worst—catastrophe.