Sunday, June 26, 2011

Is it Time to “Burn The Ships”?

Industry today faces the harsh realities of recession, declining sales and competitor encroachment.  Employment is no longer stable for seasoned executives. Marketers, instead of forging into new markets with brilliant new ideas, can be stuck in safety mode, reeling backwards and hoping to protect profits.  In times like these, it can be beneficial to reflect on a story of courage.

In the spring of 1519, the Spanish conqueror Hernando Cortez, landed his fleet on the Mexican coast in Veracruz.  He and a small band  of reluctant sailors he assembled in Cuba, immediately faced fighting a local tribe where they were outnumbered 300 to 1.   He and his band managed not only to defeat this army, but to make their way to the Aztec capital (what is now Mexico City) and after being warmly received by Montezuma, the Aztec leader, eventually overpowered the mighty Aztecs, who burning shiplater surrendered to Cortez effectively ending the once great Aztec empire.  While this European incursion into a peaceful nation is not to everyone's taste, let’s look at the lesson in leadership.  

When one ponders what it might have taken for Cortez to pull off this conquest, lets add one more detail to the story.  Upon first landing at Veracruz, he knew his men were scared, and many wanted to go back to their homes in Cuba.  He declared, upon landing on the shore, to “Burn the Ships!”  His fleet was burned, and there was no way to go back.  His men needed to complete their mission or perish. 

What can we learn from Cortez’s conquest in our own industries and careers today?  An idea, backed with brilliant execution and a mobilized team, has the same power today as in Cortez’s time.   However, the pursuit of great ideas faces the same obstacle of fear as before.  And fear can crush commitment. 

Industries need new ideas and approaches as they face competitive pressure and technology advancement.  Long established empires will be faced with smaller bands of conquerors ready to do whatever it takes to gain a money-making piece of a lucrative market.  Even the world of steady employment and long-term careers are being replaced with new skills, projects, mobilized temporary workforces and brilliantly executed operational, marketing and selling ideas. 

Are you planning or even pursuing something grand and exciting but “keeping your options open”, staying on the sidelines in a safer career choice?  Does your industry need the power of a disruptive idea you have locked away? Focus is hard when there are multiple options on the path toward our dreams. We find ourselves inclined to the safest route that is we know deep down is less compelling and fulfilling.

The business of “conquering” takes courage.  Courage takes absolute commitment.  Many times commitment is possible only when alternative courses of action are no longer available.


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Bob Clark said...