I heard a great story recently of Hernán Cortés, a Spanish Conquistador who led an expedition that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire and brought large portions of what is now mainland Mexico under the rule of the King of Castile, according to Wikipedia.

As the story was told to me, Cortés set out in the early sixteenth century with only 600 Spaniards to explore and settle the land now called Mexico. Col­o­nizing the Yucatan Penin­sula, however, seemed like an insurmountable campaign, especially with such a small army and against indigenous peoples with far more resources and understanding of the landscape.

Cortés had a vision, however, and he was committed. To motivate his army as they embarked on the march inland, Cortés is rumored to have ordered his army to "burn the boats" upon which they had arrived. The move was meant to eliminate the army's ability to retreat, which meant that the men had two options: victory or death.

Today, most historians agree that Cortés did not burn his boats but instead scuttled them to eliminate the option for retreat and thwart attempts of mutiny. Regardless, the lesson of his commitment to his mission should not be lost.

How does this translate to business? 

When I talk to new entrepreneurs, I often hear them talk about hedging -- or planning and prioritizing with a backup plan or "escape route" in case things don't go as planned.

Of course, planning for failure is a good strategy, especially if you have a family or dependents or other important commitments. It is not uncommon, for instance, for many entrepreneurs to start a business while working in a job.

At some point, however, in order for you to grow and succeed as an entrepreneur, you need to take on the mindset that failure is not an option -- that you have no boat to retreat on. If you are always planning with a Plan B in mind, it will be a challenge to make the really difficult and risky commitments you need to make for your business to thrive -- or just survive.

Quitting your job, mortgaging your home or cashing out your 401K to fund the business, or taking on a business partner are all actions that require a commitment -- and no retreat plan.

It is a frightening consideration for many new entrepreneurs, but I can tell you from experience that with retreat as no option, you will get out of bed every morning and make decisions for your business. You will do what it takes to get things done.

I am sure burning or scuttling his boats was a difficult decision for Cortés and his army. For 600 years, far bigger armies with far more resources had failed to conquer the peninsula. He and his men were victorious, however, because they saw failure as death -- a very strong incentive.

For most entrepreneurs, failure will not have the same outcome, but it can seem like it at times. In the end, you can survive and even recover and eventually thrive from failure, but you will never be able to grow the business you want without a no-fail mindset.

Published on: Apr 30, 2018
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