Yesterday, I heard the phrase ‘burning all your boats’ when someone was talking about a new business venture and it got me thinking about this popular turn of phrase by Napolean Hill. At the core of this statement lies the fact that, without complete focus and commitment it is not possible to achieve greatness. The imminence of failure pushes us forward to do things we thought we could not do but must in order to win.
I began wondering whether there were degrees to how many boats you could burn!
If we take three extremes, one being burning all your boats, burning some of the your boats and burning none of your boats, would our ventures become less successful if we start implementing safety nets into our plan? It then struck me that while ‘burning all your boats’ is very sound advice in theory, it is similar to the waterfall method of developing software.
Let’s say we embark on project X, wherein we have a set of assumptions and calibrate our venture accordingly. We burn all our boats and give it our all. There is a very high probability that our first set of assumptions are flawed and that by burning all of our boats we are really stranded in a no man’s land trying to figure things out. While I understand that having your back against a wall does lead to a higher probability of coming up with a creative solution and thereby getting ourselves out of a fix, this is akin to a poker analogy of putting all your chips on the flop while seeing only one hole card. (This is a very high risk maneuver with far too much missing information to make that decision.)
In conclusion, the solution as I see it, is to spend a greater amount of time at harbor, trying to gather more information, before making a decision to set at sea with unvalidated assumptions and hypotheses. I am all for swinging for the fences, I do believe however, that you should know a little more about the field, pitcher and most importantly yourself before getting to base to take your shot