Why burning the boats is terrible advice

Burning the boats at the shore

You’ve heard the story about burning the boats right? Legend has it that the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes told his 600 men to ‘Burn the boats’ when they arrived in Mexico in 1519. He wanted to ensure his men had no option but to succeed in plundering the riches of the Aztec empire.

Here’s the thing – Hernan was kind of like Google or Apple with an incredible amount of resources at his disposal. And us? Well, we are not Hernan. We are probably living a comfortable existence in a developed country. We would probably not die for startup success. We, in the modern world should probably be smart enough to ignore this advice.

Personally, I’ve had a lot of startups, more than ten. I’ve also had a lot of projects. The large majority have failed in financially. I’ve had two startups in which I succeeded in selling the business. I never burned the boats once. I always had some boats hidden away under the bushes by the shore for a quick and painless escape. Once I even joined another army (went back into a corporate role). I always had some form of investment to fall back on, safety cash, shares and housing. I even continued to make passive investments while I was bootstrapping my startups. And it is this reason alone I could keep on playing the game. I could keep going back into another startup and try again. I’ve got friends and colleagues who went all in, and now have very little to fall back on. Sure, we all approach things in different ways, but for me startups are an infinite game that I want to keep playing, therefore, I always keep a few boats by the shore.

See the amazing reviews of my book – The Great Fragmentation.

The strategy day you’ve probably never had

While I’m a firm believer we can achieve more as entrepreneurs than we can as employees, there are some damn good lessons we can learn from corporates. One such thing that large companies tend to do is strategy planning. Annual or quarterly events, where time is taken out to sit down and plan the future. So my question is this:

When is the last time you did this for your most important startup: Your household?

Yes, the startup that is the people who live in your home. It seems ever so weird that we spend an inordinate amount of time doing strategy for the companies we work for, and yet fail to do it for ourselves and our family. My household is a 5 year old startup which is clearly the most important in my portfolio – the capstone of all the matters to me. Within it, we have two other startups, otherwise known as children.  So my wife and I are investing a few days where our entire focus is what we want out of life for our family, and how we might go about achieving it.

So what might we include in such a day? Our approach to health, loving, learning, sharing, housing, career, finance and our community. We’ll ratify our guiding philosophy on how we invest the 24 hours in each day. We’ll decide how we allocate our resources to maximise happiness. We know that the major asset in life is time, and the people we love. The financial part of our strategy day – our plans for income and investing – is last on the agenda. This should serve what we want as people, and so setting numbers before we know what we need, would be back to front. The outcome will be an operations plan for a happy home.

We often go through life thinking that if we earn enough money, and do well in our career, the other life stuff will be ok. Turns out the opposite of this is true.


Goals and cars

I’m a strong believer in the importance of setting written goals. However, it does seem as though for every person I meet that agrees with their ability to influence life outcomes, there are an equal number of people who dismiss the concept of goal setting as having an impact on achievement.

So here is the simplest explanation I can provide for how goals work: Setting a written goal creates selective perception. Written goals subconsciously program our mind to be aware of opportunities relating to the goal as they cross our path. All of sudden we see how things might work. This does two things: Firstly, it reminds us of the task we’ve set. Secondly, it helps us find ways to make it actually happen. After that, it’s just a question of effort and tenacity.

It’s kind of like your car: Have you ever wanted a new car, or just bought a car only to notice how many of them are driving around on the roads? This is selective perception at work. It’s a beacon for stuff that matters to us – for what is relevant in our world. We only see what is out there once we purposely place ‘it’ into our life or desire it.

One of the most powerful things we can do is set our brain to work in the background – and if we know it works on simple things like noticing cars, imagine what it can do once we set it to notice opportunities.


The multi tasking hoax

Multi-tasking is a hoax. In fact it’s one of the worst developments associated with the personal computer revolution. It robs us of time, reduces focus, and has a negative impact on reaching deadlines adn getting stuff done. So here is my top 10 list of ways to avoid the multi-tasking hoax:

  1. Only have one computer application open at a time
  2. Only check your emails at 2 designated times of the day (say 9am and 3pm)
  3. Don’t write long to do lists (guilty). Instead write down the answer to this question: ‘The one thing I must finish today’
  4. Close your eyes while taking phone calls to ensure you listen to the other party.
  5. Learn to say ‘no’. Tell the other person why, you can’t do it, or offer for them to pick something to drop off.
  6. Meditate daily. Think about long term goals
  7. Focus on depth of activities, not number of activities completed. Do less things, better.
  8. Never tell anyone you are busy. We are all busy. It leads to pin balling around stuff instead of finishing.
  9. have defined goals for the year. Ask yourself each morning how your are moving towards them.
  10. Add your item for number 10 in the comments.

Startup Blog says: Multitasking is your enemy. Avoid it.


How hard you worked is irrelevant

It’s what we create for the people who care. The truth is we never know how hard it was to deliver the right product, at the right place at the right time. We only care that it was.

What we (the entrepreneurs, producers, marketers) had to go through is not part of the consideration set. It isn’t charity, it’s about them. So if we nail it and deliver the project quickly, we needn’t feel guilty or less deserving. Likewise, if it took us 5 years of hard working weekends and nights, that’s also no reason to feel a level of entitlement. We need to feel what they feel – underwhelmed or overwhelmed with what we deliver, how we got there is far less important.