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.
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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:
- To become the 5th member of Fourplay
- To manage Liverpool Football Club (sorry Stevie G, the post’s mine!)
- To hold the Guiness Book of Records for having read every book ever published (exactly, how many books are there?)
- To cut my own jazz album (I wouldn’t have to add this to my list if Fourplay actually hired me already)
- 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.
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:
- Skype ID ==> kevin.singarayar
- Instant Messaging IDs ==> firstname.lastname@example.org | email@example.com | If you’re using other IM clients, email me the client you’re using and I’ll email you my ID for it.
Now, go burn some boats will ya!