Thoughts + Articles

Burn the Boats! Giving Up Is Never An Option!

(Lessons from Sun Tzu   and Napoleon Hill on The Art of War: Burn Your Boats)

“When your army has crossed the border, you should burn your boats and bridges, in order to make it clear to everybody that you have no hankering after home.”
― Sun Tzu, Art of War

 Sun Tzu’s book “Art of War” taught armies to burn their boats and destroy the bridges behind them as they advanced into new territory. He argued that soldiers without the option of taking flight are more likely to prevail over their objective.”

Throughout history:

 “The ancient Greek soldiers understood the idea. They possessed an unwavering attitude to victory and commitment when Grecian armies landed on their enemy’s shore, the first order the generals gone was to “burn to boats”. They knew the power of motivation and necessity. They didn’t give themselves the opportunity to hesitate, to reflect, to procrastinate, and they didn’t know if they would be victorious. However, they were highly motivated because there was no other course, no other option.”

Alexander the Great “burned his boats upon arrival on the shores of Persia. By burning his boats, Alexander committed his men to victory over the Persians who greatly outnumbered the Macedonians. Considering what Alexander was feeling, the decision to destroy their only hope of retreat was extraordinary and proved to be a master decision.”

Spanish Captain, Hernán Cortés in 1519 “landed on the shores of the new world, Mexico, and gave the order to “burn the boats”. 

The act of burning the boats “is as relevant today as it was in ancient times. If ships are left in the harbor, your team will see that you are not fully committed to the battle, project or transformation. If you are the leader not fully committed why should they be? By removing any available path back to the status quo your team will become as fully committed as you are. Burning the boats is forcing businesses to innovate. Yet how many businesses use the word “innovation” actually cut off the return to the old? With technology creating seismic shifts on a global scale at an alarming pace, business must be prepared to adopt or be left behind. Change requires commitment. Leaders need to inspire the teams to follow and, as taught by Sun Tzu, will need to burn the bridges and boats to move their organization forward to remain competitive. Leaders will achieve when they show their commitment to the task at hand. They have to make themselves accountable declaring that failure is not a choice.”

  1. Step one of the growth is the mindset shift. 

Are you willing to let go of the comfort of what you know (even if you know that it is not the right path for you…right relationship, right job, right direction)?

The blanket of comfort will lull you into a sense of complacency and will not allow the fantastic job, relationship, or opportunity in. 

It is essential that you have someone else hold you accountable to creating positive change. Whether it is a coach, mentor, or mastermind group…invest in the right people who will allow you to get comfortable being uncomfortable. 

Napoleon Hill wrote about Edwin Barnes in Think and Grow Rich, “When Edwin C. Barnes climbed down from the freight train in Orange, N. J. more than thirty years ago, he may have resembled a tramp, but his thoughts were those of a king! He had invested time visualizing himself standing in Edison’s presence. He heard himself asking Mr. Edison for an opportunity to carry out the one CONSUMING OBSESSION OF HIS LIFE, a BURNING DESIRE to become the business associate of the great inventor.”

Barnes worked for 5 years before his dream, his desire to become a partner of Thomas Edison became a reality.

Napoleon Hill recounts that first meeting with Edward Barnes:

Mr. Edison said, “He stood there before me, looking like an ordinary tramp, but there was something … determination. I had learned, from years of experience with men, that when a man really desires a thing so deeply that he is willing to stake his entire future on a single turn of the wheel in order to get it, he is sure to win. Barnes had no money to begin with. He had but little education. He had no influence. But he did have initiative, faith, and the will to win. With these intangible forces he made himself the number one man with the greatest inventor who ever lived.”

Notes from Napoleon Hill:

“Barnes did not say, “I will work there for a few months, and if I get no encouragement, I will quit and get a job somewhere else.” 

He said, “I will start anywhere. I will do anything Edison tells me to do, but before I am through, I will be his associate.

He did not say, “I will keep my eyes open for another opportunity, in case I fail to get what I want in the Edison organization.”

 Barnes said, “There is but one thing in this world that I am determined to have, and that is a business association with Thomas Edison. I will burn all bridges behind me, and stake my entire future on my ability to get what I want.” 

“He left himself no possible way of retreat. He had to win or perish! That is all there is to the Barnes story of success!”

Why did Barnes succeed?

Napoleon Hill said, “Barnes succeeded because he chose a definite goal, placed all his energy, all his will power, all his effort, everything back of that goal. He did not become the partner of Edison the day he arrived. He was content to start in the most menial work, as long as it provided an opportunity to take even one step toward his cherished goal.”

“Five years passed before the chance he had been seeking made its appearance. During all those years not one ray of hope, not one promise of attainment of his DESIRE had been held out to him. To everyone, except himself, he appeared only another cog in the Edison business wheel, but in his own mind, HE WAS THE PARTNER OF EDISON EVERY MINUTE OF THE TIME, from the very day that he first went to work there.”

“It is a remarkable illustration of the power of a DEFINITE DESIRE. Barnes won his goal, because he wanted to be a business associate of Mr. Edison, more than he wanted anything else. He created a plan by which to attain that purpose. But he BURNED ALL BRIDGES BEHIND HIM. He stood by his DESIRE until it became the dominating obsession of his life–and–finally, a fact.”

Napoleon Hill said about Barnes, “When he went to Orange, He said, “I will see Edison, and put him on notice that I have come to go into business with him.”

He said, “I will start anywhere. I will do anything Edison tells me to do, but before I am through, I will be his associate.”

He said, “There is but ONE thing in this world that I am determined to have, and that is a business association with Thomas A. Edison. I will burn all bridges behind me, and stake my ENTIRE FUTURE on my ability to get what I want. He left himself no possible way of retreat. He had to win or perish!”

Do you have a “Definite Desire”, like Barnes did?

If not, can you shut down your devices for a few minutes and write down a few goals that you want to reach? 

 Are you willing to burn all bridges behind you to obtain that goal?

Are you willing to do the hard work required?  

 Do you have a step by step plan to achieve your dream or your goal??

Barnes “was content to start in the most menial work, as long as it provided an opportunity to take even one step toward his cherished goal.”

Are you willing to do the work necessary to reach your goal, your dream? 

Are you willing to work hard for 5 years, like Barnes did?

Madeline Frank, Ph.D., is an Best Selling Author, speaker, business owner, teacher, John Maxwell Team Member, concert artist, and parent. She helps businesses and organizations “Tune Up their Business”. Her observations show you the blue prints necessary to improve and keep your business successful. Her latest book “Leadership On A Shoestring Budget” is available everywhere books are sold. If you need a speaker contact Madeline at:

This entry was posted on Sunday, April 23rd, 2023 at 2:46 pm and is filed under Articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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