That is also why I think the author's logic falls short here. It may be brave to say "victory or death" but it is also kind of stupid. Especially if there's a chance you could be defeated but escape to fight another day.
Conflict is about strategy whether it be in business or war. Winning means using every resource you have available to you in the most efficient way possible. So I don't see the logic in destroying resources as motivational tools.
From my personal experience - I was running a services company which was very profitable and doing good. I tried building 2 different products in parallel but got no where. As there always was money coming in and I was moving far deep into a comfort zone to motivate me. Finally I decide to shut down services business to focus on latest product. Even though its still early, I have at least been able to get product in front few hundred users.
I think thats why having too long runway (excessive funding) has its own downside.
I want to archive this comment as evidence that in the year 2011 Google and Wikipedia still were not as good as books and libraries.
I'm happy to be wrong, but showing that requires a source. As far as I can tell, the story was originally about Tariq ibn Ziyad (see my other comment in this thread) and subsequently hopped to Caesar, Alexander, and Cortes, probably because they were better known.
On the other hand, Google book search has never worked for me. But I do think Google is waaaay better then nothing. Howewver, I am not certain that Wikipedia, as it stands, is actually a net gain.
If we're talking generals of old: Sun Tzu kept on stressing that one should not fight a battle that has not been won in advance. That when outcome is uncertain it is better to live and to fight another day. Patience and resilience are even greater virtues than boldness.
That is a lesson that for example Alexander, Napoleon and Hitler failed to learn.
But it is indeed hard to be wise, patient and resilient when you are an narcissist on a rampage. If you learn from figures of old, please don't take them out of context and bet your life to heavily on their philosophies. Because it may cost you dearly.
Edit: Thus if you really want to do good. Prepare. Prepare obsessively and when time comes execute with determination. This ability is one virtue that all the truly great people I know of posses.
Thank you for clarification - this is exactly what I meant, but English is not my primary language and thus my point didn't come across the way I wanted. And I indeed meant it to come across the way you put it.
I'd say it's more subtle than that: the side which is more appropriately prepared always wins. Arguably the French were "more prepared" for WWII if you go by amount of effort expended - building the Maginot line wasn't cheap - but it didn't do them much good.
Preparation is not about spending the most money - its like saying that 00's startups were way more prepared than nowaday's companies. No they only foolishly blew more resources.
A great general (or businessman for that matter) needs to have a knowledge of art, history, psychology, rhetorics, economics, philosophy and lastly military strategy (and also needs to be physically fit). That is what Sun Tzu really teaches. Being well rounded in all life's aspects gives one sufficient power to rise to any challenge.
Not some brutish spending of money and lives. Be it war or business.
As Sun Tzu said: It is best to win without fighting. And if we return to the French - they could have won WW2 without fight - if their deluded politicians wouldn't load Germans with unfulfillable liabilities.
What I have read of his work does make much sense - but is dangerous when taken out of context of his vast military experience - which is exactly what happened - what we have seen in western Europe from mid 19th century and culminating in WWI was predominantly fueled by Von Clausevitz's work. His delusion was trying to present his subjective life's experience in a scientific and absolute manner. And what happened was that people took his work and applied it literally.
"Well, gee. If I stay at my day job another 6 months, think of all the extra runway my startup will have!"
"We can't release now! Feature X isn't even ready yet!"
I would say preparedness and entrepreneurship aren't automatically great advice.
When it comes to actual war (and other direct competitions, such as a negotiation), though, the advice is spot on. Preparation is how the US got Bin Laden from an (arguably) foreign nation without a single casualty, even after losing a helicopter in the process.
And procrastination is by no means preparation. However delaying your startup for six years might be a smart move if you have a strategic plan on how to improve your odds.
>"We can't release now! Feature X isn't even ready yet!": If the feature is core aspect of a product then by no means you should launch today. But if it is not a core or important feature then why did you even bother with its design and implementation.
These are by no means easy questions. And there are no easy answers. Thats why it is always wise to be realistic about ones goals and prepare. Doing your first startup might also just be a preparation and if it fails you should not back off - but realize that you failed since you were insufficiently prepared.
Dietrich Mateschitz was 40 years old when he founded Red Bull - and his life was (unknowingly) one big preparation for the Big One.
When the USSR was invaded in world war II, Stalin implemented the "not one step back" policy. Officers and NKVD agents were under orders to shoot anyone who so much as took "one step back" in the face of the german onslaught. Officers would be shot if they ordered a retreat. He did it so that Russians would fight bravely and to the death, and many did. But it also meant that Stalin's generals were not allowed to maneuver away from the Germans, and so the German army could move past them and cut off their lines of supply. The order was rescinded because it hampered the Russians more than it helped them.
But I am dubious of any comparison between business and war. War analogies seem to bring out the least productive alpha traits in people (Balmer wanting to crush Apple springs to mind). There are some parallels, to be sure, but they are pretty damn different, too. Confuse the two at your peril.
The meta lesson is that anecdotes are not wisdom. Smaller armies sometimes defeat bigger armies, but they mostly don't. Over enough trials, there will be some stories of success in the face of failure, some interesting enough to become legends. You should make decisions against the aggregate data, not selectively interesting data points.
Alexander is an epic exception, hence "the Great". Even though he succeeded, that doesn't mean it was wise of him to risk death and possible subsequent collapse of his civilization.
According to Plutarch, Alexander did burn some wagons, but that was because he wanted to make his army lighter so it could move faster.
Dying in battle != having a failed startup venture
I don't get what we gain by pretending that the joy and opportunities of startup life is somehow analogous to fighting for our very lives.
What's our downside, really? That we're embarrassed when we fail? Or that we forgo a few years of big-company paychecks?
That's materially different than Alexander's army's downside - suffering and then death.
The root cause of Alexanders invasion as of Herodotus was the march of the 10000.
The Persian army could not stop this ragtag band of Greek mercenaries in all those months and so they had obviously grown weak.
So if you see a big market were at least one new entrant survived, you should raise more capital than they did and conquer the peacock throne of your market.
We can read in lots of fancy analogies, but unless we recognize that war (with the possibility of real, major loss) is played at completely different stakes (and therefore different strategy), it seems like a silly exercise. My $0.02!
No, removing your options is never good. No amount of anecdotes can change that. You will probably come to a point where you'll wish you had the option, because everything's crashing down.
Removing other people's options, like in the anecdote, might be good for you, though.
Am I the only one who's tired of these empty articles all the time? "I take cold showers to prove myself", "I burn my boats to make sure I can't leave", etc. I don't think they serve any purpose.
It was Hernán Cortés who burnt his ships off the coast of Mexico in 1519 to eliminate any ideas of retreat.
What has happened is your opponent has now created a room for your escape, now what?
It is similar with entrepreneurial ventures. But instead of your enemies creating an escape, your family and friends will provide one. Your parents will offer to pay grad school for you; your friends will hook you up with a new highly paying job. Your resolve will be broken.
Small successes don't help VC funds, so VCs will present it as universally good advice. In reality, it's good advice for some entrepreneurs and bad advice for others. You have to examine your own situation and make your own choice.
Full-tilting might be brave, but better players are always willing to fold.
There is a lesson in this especially for startups. I took "burning your boat" as a way to take that first leap and not look back. Someone else mentioned quitting your job. It's purposely creating circumstances that force you to look ahead and prepare for the future.
"That didn't work out but there's really nothing I could have done differently. This outcome turned out great because of X, Y, and Z anyway so who cares?"