“If you want to take the island, burn the boats”

 "If you want to take the island, burn the boats" -

while this quote has been actively promoted in recent years by Anthony Robbins, it owes its origin to Julius Caesar, more than 2,000 years ago. Caesar had ventured out to conquer England; the latter being at a great distance from Rome. Caesar had taken a considerably sized naval fleet with him though their numbers still pale in comparison to the Celts who were immensely skillful & formidable warriors. As the Roman armada drew near the coast, the Celtic enemy could be seen lining on the Cliffs of Dover, their violent shadows drawing fear even in the hearts of the valiant Roman soldiers. In the event that Caesar and his soldiers decided to retreat, they would have to sail back across the channel. There would be no help from any quarter, nor any supplies. More importantly, the senate at Rome was full of political antagonists who wouldn't ignore this opportunity to spare Caesar. 

Caesar saw his Generals directing the ships away from the cliffs. In no time, his men established a beachhead. To Caesar, it looked like the army had secured their ships in such a way that if they were to beat a hasty retreat they would be able to do so quite successfully. Ever the unpredictable General that he was, Caesar made up his mind in one instant. He ordered his men to burn the ships.

The Romans burnt every single ship they had sailed in even as the Celts watched horrified at the insane men who had come to fight them. With that one move, Caesar had sent a strong message to both, his own men as well as the enemy. He did not intend to sail away from the island without conquering the land. And if his men and he were unable to do so, they would rather die there than go back. The burning of the ships clearly suggested that he had left himself and his men no option but to give all they had. As long as the Roman fleet stayed in sight, there would be moments of weakness when the men might think of retreat. With the ships burnt, there was no option but to fight their way through the heart of enemy territory. Being pushed back into the raging sea meant certain death. Caesar had ensured that both he and his men would operate at 100% commitment. The enemy knew this too now, and they shivered as the "insane" Roman advanced with his men. 

Cut to the present day:

I see a lot of entrepreneurs (Including me) NOT burning their ships when they want to do business. So, a wannabe entrepreneur holds on to his job while trying to set up a business. What they are telling their team and the investors is that they do not have sufficient faith in their own business model for them to take the leap of faith. Or entrepreneurs operating different businesses with the belief that if one business fails, the other will bail them out. Good strategies both! But neither of these makes for the kind of commitment that comes when you have burnt the ships....

When you know there is a fall back option, you WILL take that fall back option. Which means you will not give the focus your business demands or deserves. The investors see it; your team sees it. And perhaps you see it too, somewhere in the recesses of your sub conscious mind. It doesn't inspire faith; nor does it show loyalty and commitment.

So, decide what you want to do. Start doing it. And burn everything else that you see as a potential crutch. Make no mistake. That's not a crutch that will enable you to hobble to success. It will only make you want to hobble, when all the time you could have run...sprinted to success!!!

Entrepreneur Business Investor Commitment

About the author

Alok Tamhankar

Founder at Think StartUp /Enabler/Entrepreneur/Speaker


10 years of experience in Finance and Team handling.

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