By Mark Overbye
Never retreat, attack in a new direction. Pure wisdom.
Ever been in a management meeting where Plan B is presented as an option? If so, run away.
Those business managers will be outrun and gunned down by competitors more devoted to their success. Developers of Plan B deal in doubt. There are lots of stories about doubters, famous even, like Doubting Thomas. None paints an enviable picture of the doubter. Doubt is the opposite of being committed. Doubt dims the light on the path to success.
Historical lore says Spanish explorer Cortés burned his boats when he reached Mexico in 1519. Watching the boats burn, Cortés’ men were effectively pledged to their plan. Cortés didn’t say, “Hey, park those over there in case this doesn’t work.” Nope, burning the boats illuminated the mission. Further, Cortés didn’t want his leadership questioned.
Cortés wasn’t the first. On January 10, 49 BC Julius Caesar forbade the return of Roman troops once they crossed the Rubicon River. Threatened with execution unless they triumphed in their pursuit of establishing the Roman Republic, the Rubicon was the point of no return. Today’s business lexicon includes the reference. When you hear, we just crossed the Rubicon, take note.
At the Battle of Julu in 207 BC, Commander Zhang Yu ordered his men to destroy more than 3 days of provisions as well as their cooking equipment. Yu sent the express message that his troops’ survival was in jeopardy unless they prevailed against their enemy. Apparently, the surefire motivational tactic of stealing your next meal from the mouth of your competitor works. We’re keenly aware, some 2500 years later.
Steve Jobs is surely a modern-day conquistador. A master of making missions clear, he set a trajectory and rallied his believers. His followers understood Apple’s assignment “to challenge the status quo” and anyone who didn’t want a seat in that boat was set adrift.
Absolute transparency is the radical battle cry in today’s business world. Transparency establishes the truth, creating a mission so well-defined that contemplated deviation is reduced to amusement.
“All progress starts by telling the truth,” claims Dan Sullivan, a respected business coach and strategist. By suffocating any reason for Plan B, the true endeavor is clarified. That clarity of commitment is crucial.
Doubt is an evil seed. Opening the door to fear, all sorts of troubling thoughts rush in. Are we on the right path? Will our customers like this? Do the expected margins sustain us?
If there are doubts, it means the homework is incomplete to drive actions that garner faithful crusaders. Eliminating the confusion of doubt, and doing the homework, sanctifies the clarity of mission.
How do you move forward with such obvious purpose that you sleep comfortably? The answer is embedded within a formula for success tested through the lens of experience and data that smothers any potential for mutiny. If all the rowers in the boat work in harmony, the boat gets to its destination most efficiently. If there’s dissent, and some rowers are not committed, direction and speed are compromised.
What do you do when Plan A fails? You pivot. If you’re paying attention, you know more since your journey began, your perspective is wiser and you have experience you didn’t have when you initially chose between A and B.
Upon pivoting, you pick a new direction and lead your teams. Using the rowing analogy, let’s say you and your team are rowing with purpose to a coastal city to collect rubies. You get there but find they don’t have rubies, they have diamonds. So you collect a few diamonds (your newfound knowledge) and row to the destination with rubies. Obviously, pivoting keeps everyone rowing with the same final objective in mind to a consistent beat (purpose). There’s always value in whatever direction you choose. Those sailors with the most knowledge have been to the most ports.
The conundrum in having a Plan B suggests that you can move back to the point where you choose between Plans A or B. That’s ridiculous. Heraclitus famously said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Appropriately, you can’t go back to that A or B fork in the road. People, situations, information, and the world, have all changed. Act accordingly.
If you’re a Chuck Norris fan, here’s a modern-day bit of inspiration. Chuck never retreats, he only attacks in a new direction. Words of pure wisdom. When you develop your plan, attack its integrity from all angles before launching. Fully vetting it in advance sweeps away any doubts and fully commits your confidence.
Cortés life was filled with conflict, especially through today’s lens. But it appears he was an inspirational ace. He was successful in getting his enemies to join his ranks, he consistently won his detractors over, married into nobility, and received from King Carlos his own Coat of Arms.
Nearly 40 years old when he burned his boats, he was a daring discoverer, an intrepid navigator with deep knowledge about leadership and plan creation. That bonfire was probably not a spontaneous action, but one with an outcome he already saw in his mind’s eye.
- Is Plan A been defined so clearly that Plan B has been laid to rest?
- Are we open-minded enough to consider that what we don’t know today might indeed become the future path tomorrow?
- Have we given every stakeholder a voice to ensure we’ve done our best to define the correct mission?
These are the keys to launching a successful plan. They’re also the keys acknowledging that the vehicle for our objectives does not have a reverse gear.
Mark Overbye is the CEO of Anthem Marine, as well as the chairman of USA Waterski and Wake Sports Foundation. He is also the founder of Montara Boats and Gekko Sports.