Burn Your Boats

I was inspired last week by my colleague Joe. He’s in the middle of a pretty fast-paced project that involves juggling lots of design, lots of research, lots of business modeling, and just the general overhead that comes with any effort.

One of the things Joe wanted most out of this project was to experiment with a lot of extreme digital prototyping; he knew the space well and realized this project would be a great place to try a few new things. He also knew that this prototyping was above and beyond what the team had to accomplish; this would be a stretch.

Knowing himself, Joe knew that if verbally committed and told everyone (including the client) about the prototypes the team intended to build; it would be harder to go back on their word. He knew his team was capable; he was just worried they wouldn’t get around to it. If he ran his mouth, he knew they would have to deliver. And with that, what once was a stretch goal became part of the project, and the team is in the middle of organizing and prioritizing to make it happen. It’s a very cool thing to see.

By making a verbal commitment, Joe had burned his boats. If he were on an expedition that had just found new land, he would have eliminated the possibility of ever going back home. After all, the best was to ensure progress forward is to eliminate the option of going backwards.

I think about many of the great people I’ve had the chance to work with over the years, and on most efforts the very best of them make a point of very publically burning their boats. They commit to designing and building what’s in front of them. The also create a common goal that can engage and solidify a team. The effort may fail, but these people never fail the effort.

These people aren’t looking over their shoulder for the next best opportunity. They aren’t constantly running their mouths about a “pivot”. They’re digging in, and they’re going to figure it out. There are always times when a team will need to reconsider things and alter course, but there’s value in committing and working towards the goal.

So, the next time you’re up against a big scary challenge, do yourself a favor, don’t start looking for the exit. Commit to what’s in front of you; take whatever measure you need to take advantage of your opportunity. Burn your boats, it may be just the motivation you need.

Leave a Reply