#1736 Burn the Boats

Toss Plan B Overboard

Matt Higgins is a FASCINATING human being.

He was raised in poverty by a single mom, dropped out of high school at sixteen, then wound up getting his law degree from Fordham University School of Law and became the youngest press secretary to the mayor’s office in New York City history. Then he helped lead the effort to rebuild the World Trade Center site before becoming an executive for the New York Jets.

THEN he became a guest shark on Shark Tank, an executive fellow teaching at Harvard Business School, and has invested in some of America’s most beloved brands through RSE Ventures—the investment firm he co-founded.

Then he wrote a book in which he tells us how he did it while sharing a TON of inspiring stories about others who went ALL IN on their dreams.

His book is called Burn the Boats.

It’s fantastic.

Today we’re going to explore one of my favorite Ideas from the book.

Let’s get straight to work.

Matt tells us: “This isn’t just my story. It’s every story, and it’s all of history. Burning the boats as a strategy for success goes all the way back to the Old Testament. ...

More recently, in 2022, Volodymyr Zelensky, the comedian turned president of Ukraine, was under siege from Russian invaders when the United States offered him a plan to evacuate. The entire free world had concluded that Ukraine had no chance of overcoming the full weight of the Russian army, and that if Zelensky didn’t abandon Kyiv soon, he would meet his demise.”

He continues by saying: “But the Ukrainian president proved himself a student of both history and psychology when he took to the airwaves to reject the offer from U.S. President Joe Biden. ‘I don’t need a ride; I need weapons,’ he said.”

And, finally, he says: “Zelensky signaled to the Russian opponents—and to the world—that he had given himself no way out. He had burned the boats and was prepared to fight his way to the death. His defiance proved contagious, and with those simple words, he inspired his country—and ultimately all of NATO—to resist invasion.”

That’s from the Introduction to the book in which Matt introduces himself and his remarkable story.

Before giving us Zelensky as an example of burning the boats and eliminating an exit strategy, Matt tells us about the ancient warriors in the Old Testament who, when besieging a city, would always give their enemies a way out.

He quotes Rabbi Naphtali Hoff who says: “They understood that so long as the enemy saw that they had an escape route available, they would not fight with utmost earnestness and energy.”

Then there’s Sun Tzu, the great Chinese general, military strategist writer, and philosopher, who echoes the same point. In The Art of War, Sun Tzu says that “The leader of an army carries his men deep into hostile territory before he shows his hand. He burns his boats and breaks his cooking pots.”

As Matt says: “He gives his men no option to return, and the only way they will eat again is to eat the food of their enemy.”

Boats burned.

No exit strategy.

Napoleon Hill echoes this wisdom in his all-time classic, Think and Grow Rich.

In the context of emphasizing the importance of having what he called a “burning desire” to achieve your goals, he tells us: “A long while ago, a great warrior faced a situation which made it necessary for him to make a decision which insured his success on the battlefield. He was about to send his armies against a powerful foe, whose men outnumbered his own. He loaded his soldiers into boats, sailed to the enemy’s country, unloaded soldiers and equipment, then gave the order to burn the ships that had carried them. Addressing the men before the first battle, he said, ‘You see the boats going up in smoke. That means that we cannot leave these shores unless we win! We now have no choice—we win—or we perish!’

They won. Every person who wins in any undertaking must be willing to burn his ships and cut all sources of retreat. Only by so doing can one be sure of maintaining that state of mind known as a burning desire to win, essential to success.”

Spotlight on YOU.

What do YOU want to create in your life?

WOOP it.

Know the price you will need to pay.

Double it.

Then decide whether or not you’re willing to pay it.


Assuming you are…

Start paying it.


P.S. My equivalent move to burn the boats while eliminating any and all exits with my Mission to help create a world in which 51% of humanity is flourishing by the year 2051 as the Philosopher/CEO of Heroic Public Benefit Corporation?

My tattoos. As I like to joke to prospective investors, they don’t rub off. (Hah.)

I’m ALL IN. Boats are burned.


P.P.S. Lanny Bassham just came to mind as I type that out. In With Winning in Mind, he tells us: “Determine a goal worth trading your life for.”

P.P.P.S. I created the Note on this book days after returning from a trip to Norfolk, Virginia to lead a Heroic workshop for Captain Dave Pollard and his leadership team on the USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH.

Note: That’s the aircraft carrier we sent out in response to Zelensky’s request for support. (Goosebumps.)

Here’s to ALL of us playing our roles as humbly yet Heroically well as we can to help create that world we aspire to see.

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