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A His­tor­i­cal Excursus

I t was the year 1519 and Hernán Cortés, with some 600 Spaniards, 16 or so horses and 11 boats, had landed on a vast inland plateau called, Mexico.

The Span­ish con­quis­ta­dor and his men were about to embark on a con­quest of an empire that hoarded some of the world’s great­est trea­sure.  Gold, sil­ver and pre­cious Aztec jew­els were just some of what this trea­sure had to offer any­one who suc­ceeded in their quest to obtain it.

But, with only 600 men — none of whom had encum­bered them­selves with pro­tec­tive armour – con­quer­ing an empire so exten­sive in its ter­ri­to­ries could only be under­taken by a man with a death wish.

This dar­ing under­tak­ing was made even more insur­mount­able by the fact that for more than 600 years, con­querors with far more resources at their dis­posal who attempted to col­o­nize the Yucatan Penin­sula, never suc­ceeded.  Hernán Cortés was well-aware of this fact.  And it was for this rea­son, that he took a dif­fer­ent approach when he landed on the land of the Mayans.
Instead of charg­ing through cities and forc­ing his men into imme­di­ate bat­tle, Hernán Cortés stayed on the beach and awoke the souls of his men with melo­di­ous cadences – in the form of embla­zoned speeches.

His speeches were inge­niously designed to urge on the spirit of adven­ture and invoke the thirst of life­times of for­tune amongst his troops.  His ora­tions bore fruit, for what was sup­pos­edly a mil­i­tary exploit, now bore the appear­ance of extrav­a­gant romance in the imag­i­na­tions of Cortés’ troops.

But, iron­i­cally, it would only just be 3 words which Cortés’ mur­mured, that would change the his­tory of the New World.  As they marched inland to face their ene­mies, Cortés ordered, “Burn the boats.”

It was a deci­sion that should have back­fired.  For if Cortés and his men were on the brink of defeat, there wasn’t an exit strat­egy in place to save their lives.  Remark­ably though, the com­mand to burn the boats had an oppo­site effect on his men because now, they were left with only 2 choices — die, or ensure vic­tory.  And fight they did.

We know today, how Cortés’ deci­sion to burn his boats panned out.  Hernán Cortés became the first man in 600 years to suc­cess­fully con­quer Mexico.

Though his­to­ri­ans still dis­pute the verac­ity of Hernán Cortés burn­ing his boats, it’s doubt­less that Cortés did destroy his boats.  But, he wasn’t the first man to make such a bold, strate­gic deci­sion to ensure victory.

About a thou­sand years before, the world’s great­est empire builder, Alexan­der the Great burned his boats upon arrival on the shores of Per­sia.  By burn­ing his boats, Alexan­der com­mit­ted his men to vic­tory over the Per­sians, who far out­num­bered the Greeks in great num­bers.  Fur­ther­more, Per­sia then also had the dis­tinc­tion of hav­ing the most pow­er­ful naval fleet in the world.  Con­sid­er­ing what Alexan­der was fac­ing, the deci­sion to destroy the Greeks’ only hope of retreat was an extra­or­di­nary one.  Nonethe­less, it proved to be the cor­rect one.

Our his­tory books also boast of other fear­some Greek com­man­ders who exe­cuted the same strat­egy to guar­an­tee vic­tory.  Taric el Tuerto, oth­er­wise known as Tariq ibn Ziyad, the gen­eral who con­quered His­pania in 711, burned his boats when fight­ing the Spaniards, as he too had a valid rea­son to do so — his army was out­num­bered 5:1.

Was this act of burn­ing the boats a mock drama­ti­za­tion of brav­ery, or a clev­erly con­structed strat­egy?  In Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, it brings to light the logic behind the deci­sions of history’s great­est con­querors to burn their boats at the risk of being killed in enemy hands.  It was sim­ply to erad­i­cate any notion of retreat from the minds of their troops and com­mit them­selves unwa­ver­ingly to the cause – Vic­tory.  Defeat wasn’t an option at all.

To “Burn The Boats” Today

Today, “burn the boats” has been reduced to a mere allu­sion, but the spirit of its mean­ing con­tin­ues to inspire thou­sands.  Moti­va­tional speak­ers like Lou Holtz use its mean­ing to array their speeches in the glit­ter­ing dress of, well, moti­va­tion.  After­all, to “burn the boats” does present itself as a fine exam­ple of what unwa­ver­ing com­mit­ment truly is.  And all of us can do with a lit­tle com­mit­ment now and then.

On the other side of the coin, busi­ness courses teach the art of burn­ing boats to inspire busi­ness inno­va­tion and rein­ven­tion.  Com­pa­nies like Kodak had to burn their boats to rein­vent their busi­ness model from sell­ing only hard prod­ucts, to offer­ing dig­i­tal ser­vices as well.  Dell burned its “direct sell­ing” boats by decid­ing to sell through retail­ers.  These busi­nesses had to do what they did to sur­vive and thrive in today’s global econ­omy that doesn’t prac­tice selec­tion bias.

Busi­ness guru, Tom Peters swears by Cortés’ destruc­tive strat­egy by going so far as to sug­gest that every com­pany hire a CDO – a Chief Destruc­tive Officer.

Entre­pre­neur Troy Tyler had this to say to Fast Com­pany in the August 2000 issue about “burn­ing boats”:

Strat­egy is all about com­mit­ment,” says Tyler. “If what you’re doing isn’t irrev­o­ca­ble, then you don’t have a strat­egy — because any­one can do it. That’s why burn­ing the boats is so impor­tant. I’ve always wanted to treat life like I was an invad­ing army and there was no turn­ing back.”

When Dar­win E. Smith, CEO of Kimberly-Clark made the strate­gic deci­sion to sell the mills and invest the money in brands like Kleenex and Hug­gies, he was abysmally ridiculed by the media.  But, the cries of ridicule soon turned to songs of praise when Kimberly-Clark out­per­formed Proc­tor & Gam­ble and gained full con­trol of Scott Paper.  Dar­win Smith burned his company’s boats and like Cortés, found his gold.

And This Is What BurningBoats.com Is All About

Help­ing you find your gold in your busi­ness in an age where inno­va­tion is no longer just an option.  With Inter­net tech­nol­ogy cre­at­ing seis­mic shifts on a global scale and at increas­ingly alarm­ing speeds, busi­nesses that fail to ride on the coat­tails of these tech­nol­ogy shifts are inad­ver­tently com­mit­ting busi­ness suicide.

Because busi­ness remod­el­ing is but a peren­nial quest for reju­ve­na­tion, BurningBoats.com will per­form the rudi­men­tary task of sift­ing out tech­no­log­i­cal trends that are the Real McCoy, from those that dis­guise them­selves as hype cycles.  You will get the inside track on all things Inter­net tech­nol­ogy and busi­ness remod­el­ing strate­gies that should only serve to accel­er­ate busi­ness growth and boost profits.

BurningBoats.com hopes to be your business’s great enabler and there­fore, it’s only fair that BurningBoats.com ren­ders you liable to be con­sid­ered part of the BurningBoats.com com­mu­nity.  So share your thoughts, expe­ri­ences, frus­tra­tions, ideas, doubts, or what­ever it is that has you beat­ing your fists on the pil­low every night.  Com­ment in the blog, or shoot me an e-mail if you’d like.

Sub­scribe To BurningBoats.com

There’s only one way to stay on the cutting-edge of Inter­net tech­nol­ogy, emerg­ing tech trends and busi­ness remod­el­ing strate­gies, and that’s to sub­scribe to BurningBoats.com either via click­ing on its RSS feed, or typ­ing in your e-mail address.  Both sub­scrip­tion meth­ods are found on the right-hand col­umn of this blog.

If you aren’t sure what RSS is, here’s a primer that should answer all your ques­tions.  And if you haven’t dirt­ied your hands sub­scrib­ing to a blog before, then refer to my tuto­ri­als, both Part 1 and Part 2.  That should be enough to make you really dangerous.

Who’s Blog­ging This?

I guess this is the point where I ref­er­ence myself in the third per­son and pre­tend that I’m not even in the room while I’m doing it.  Makes sense, no?  Well, it sure as hell doesn’t make sense to me, so I guess I’m just going to have to give it to you straight.

My name is Kevin-Mikhail Man­sour Sin­gara­yar.  And to save you the trou­ble of remem­ber­ing that, just call me Kevin.  I was adopted by Bill Gates and was told that I’m the true inher­i­tor of all his wealth…ah ha!  That was just to check if you’d already dozed off.

Seri­ously though, I’m an inde­pen­dent Inter­net tech­nol­o­gist who with unabashed vigour, evan­ge­lizes and prac­tices early tech­nol­ogy adop­tion.  I work inde­pen­dently with entre­pre­neurs and busi­nesses in remod­el­ing their exist­ing projects to reap the ben­e­fits of these tech­no­log­i­cal shifts.

I jug­gle that with one of my great pas­sions, writ­ing.  I ghost­write for com­pa­nies on most things busi­ness and technology.

And since I’m on a roll and you can’t get enough of me, here’s more…

I’m a grad­u­ate in Con­tem­po­rary Music, hold a diploma in Audio Engi­neer­ing, DJ for my own per­sonal grat­i­fi­ca­tion and com­pose music as a form of ther­apy.  I’d been told cook­ing was quite ther­a­peu­tic too, but nobody men­tioned the part about not blow­ing up the kitchen, sorry Mom.

And what’s an “About Me” page with­out me telling you about my goals, eh?  Here’s what I have planned:

  1. To become the 5th mem­ber of Fourplay
  2. To man­age Liv­er­pool Foot­ball Club (sorry Ste­vie G, the post’s mine!)
  3. To hold the Gui­ness Book of Records for hav­ing read every book ever pub­lished (exactly, how many books are there?)
  4. To cut my own jazz album (I wouldn’t have to add this to my list if Four­play actu­ally hired me already)
  5. For­get all of the above and go back to play­ing with my Xbox

After putting you through all that, you’d assume that I don’t have a life… and you’d be absolutely right.  I don’t.  God help me.

Con­tact Information

If for some rea­son you’d like to help me reach my goals, talk busi­ness, or offer your sym­pa­thies, you can get hold of me at kevin [AT] burn­ing­boats [DOT] com.  Alter­na­tively, you can also get in touch with me by using the con­tact form.

Other Ways We Can Stay In Touch

I share lots of infor­ma­tion which I don’t usu­ally post to this blog due to the nature of con­ver­sa­tions con­ducted on social net­works, so I urge you to hang out with me at these sites as well:

Now, go burn some boats will ya!

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

GarykPatton June 16, 2009 at 4:32 am

You know so many interesting infomation. You might be very wise. I like such people. Don’t top writing.

Sergio December 5, 2009 at 4:20 pm

Excelente Kevin, toda una lección en estos tiempos, thank you…

Sergio December 5, 2009 at 10:20 pm

Excelente Kevin, toda una lección en estos tiempos, thank you…

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