Burn the Ships

Linda LaitalaBusiness, Employees, Leadership, ManagementLeave a Comment

burn the ships

In 1519 Hernan Cortes arrived in the New World with 600 men and 11 ships. His mission was to conquer the Aztecs and take control of their vast treasure. As legend tells us, some of his soldiers, fearful of the outcome of their venture, plotted to seize the ships in order to desert. Cortez got wind of the plot and gave the order, “Burn the ships!”

His men resisted, wondering how they would get home.  Cortez answered, “If we are going home it will be in their ships!”

The path forward was clear for Cortez, it was all or nothing – 100% commitment.  The option of failure was gone, conquer as heroes or die.  All the efforts of Cortez and his men from that day forward was focused on succeeding in this new reality.

What does burning your ships mean today?  As markets and organizations change, companies must adapt or die.  Kodak had to burn their boat, reinventing their company from selling cameras and film products to offering digital services.  Darwin E. Smith, CEO of Kimberly Clark made a strategic decision to sell his company’s paper mills and invest in brands like Kleenex and Huggies.  At the time, he was harshly judged by the media.  It wasn’t long before the strategy started to look brilliant and the company grew to outperform Procter & Gamble.  These companies burned their boats to find new ways to the gold.

At times decisions must be made, even when we are unclear about which way to go.  We gather facts, assess risks and use our best judgement to move forward.  Once the decision is made, we need to stick with it and not allow second-guessing and fear to derail us.  Safety nets and escape routes tend to reduce the effort, focus and commitment as we invest in a new strategy.  You have to be willing to burn the boats behind you and trust your inner voice.  Don’t look back.

What are you afraid to let go of?  Are there ships you need to burn?


The road is easier together,

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