Burn The Ships: Meaning And It’s Relevance Today

Burn The Ships: Meaning And It’s Relevance Today

“Burning the/your ships/boats” is a figure of speech that means doing anything that makes it difficult to turn back, particularly if done purposefully and without necessity.

It stems from tales of conquerors who, after landing their army in opposing territory, allegedly ordered their own fleet to be burned.

The phrase “burning your ships” dates from 1519, when Hernán Cortés commanded a Spanish expedition that arrived in Mexico 1519.

Cortés knew his crew was fatigued from the lengthy sea voyage, but he needed to inspire them to thrive in the new land. As a result, he ordered the burning of the ships in which they came.

This delivered a strong message to his men: there is no going back.

If the ships had been in sight and ready to flee, they would have been the obvious choice when things became rough.

Burn The Ships: Meaning And It’s Relevance Today

Cortés demolished the safety net while maintaining his crew’s passion, devotion, and collaboration. They eventually succeeded because they each had a personal stake in their success.

He was successful in conquering the Aztec kingdom two years later.

What Does Burning The Ships Mean Today?

“Burning the ships” is also a valuable idea for business decisions, particularly during times of significant market and/or organizational upheaval.

When Kodak transitioned from selling film products to also supplying digital services, it had to burn its boats to rethink its business model. Kimberly-Clark CEO Darwin E.

Smith made a strategic choice to sell his company’s paper mills and spend the proceeds on products such as Kleenex and Huggies. Smith was brutally mocked by the media at the time.

However, the tactic proved to be a successful one, as Kimberly-Clark surpassed Procter & Gamble and won complete control of Scott Paper.

We see far too many cases of would-be entrepreneurs working full-time while attempting to establish new firms. This indicates a lack of confidence in one’s own business plan.

Other entrepreneurs run many firms in the hope that if one fails, the others will save them. These options may make sense in terms of holding on to a life preserver, but they reduce the probability of succeeding.

burn the ships meaning in vikings

The same holds true in personal relationships: We dread rejection, so we drove around, never taking the risks required to create and build deep, rewarding partnerships.

There are moments in our life when we must make decisions, even when the best course of action is unknown.

We can only acquire as much data as we can, assess the dangers, and proceed based on our best judgments and the insights of others. We must be willing to remain with our decisions after we have made them.

We cannot let fear and second-guessing stop us. Instead of dwelling on the what-ifs, focus on the work at hand and the steps required for success.

Safety nets and escape routes can keep us safe from pain and harm, but they also diminish the amount of work, attention, and dedication we put into a process.

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Once you’ve taken your decision, you must be willing to burn the boats in your pursuit.

The expected advantage of such an act is that everyone in the team — whether it is an actual army focused on conquest or any group pursuing a dangerous venture — will exhibit full devotion if they know escape is impossible.

When there is no other way out, there is no use in holding back or playing things safe.

The History Of Burning Your Ships

The phrase “burn the ships” has become increasingly symbolic in recent years, as the ships were occasionally sunk or destroyed by burning, and in one origin story, there were no ships at all.

Rather, a Chinese General ordered the destruction of a bridge after his men crossed a river to engage a greater and stronger foe.

The proverb is based on various military triumphs over the previous 2,000 years. a few of which are:

  • Julius Caesar’s raid on Britain in 55BC, where he was outnumbered 10-1, according to some historians.
  • Alexander The Great’s battle against Persia in 334 BC
  • Cortes’ attack on the Aztec empire in 1519

While the details vary, the basic plot is that a military leader is generally outmanned and outgunned by his opponent by a factor of 5 or even 10.

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He understands that his men are discouraged and will leave him if they know they can flee. To prevent that possibility, he orders his ships to be torched, resulting in a considerably higher degree of devotion and motivation.

Different Ways Of Burning The Ships

There are several ways to Burn the Ships, depending on the scenario and the type of business at hand:

  • Throwing away essential commodities such as food or gasoline.
  • destroying irreplaceable equipment required on the return trip
  • Intentionally bringing your forces into a situation where there is no way out without fighting.
  • Give your position or plans to the adversary so that they can block your escapes.
  • Destroying the radio or other means of communication is required to summon assistance.
  • A group of persons planning to commit treason may send a telegram disclosing their defection to the betrayed side, making it hard for anybody who changes their mind to return to their old master and avoid punishment.

Don’t Go Down With The Ship

Unfortunately, the most common way that people unwittingly burn their own ships is by procrastination. When you leave anything till the last minute, you increase your chances of going down with the ship.

burn the ships meaning in vikings

Last-minute job or project completion will surely cost you pain in the form of stress, a lot of hard effort, and maybe lost sleep. It may also cost you social disgrace and loss of prestige if you don’t complete or perform a poor job.

If you wish to take advantage of the social aspect of “burning the ships” without going down with the ship, you must make a public commitment to accomplish something.

Whatever you commit to must fit with your values, otherwise, you may set yourself up for failure before you even begin.

It is critical that your progress must be clearly visible, not just the proclamation of your commitment and the end result. Otherwise, you will lose the advantage of societal pressure to keep you going.

It is much more successful if your progress is visible without you need to inform everyone. If your status updates are the only method for people to know how you’re doing, you’ll be more likely to “forget” to send them when things aren’t going well.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the story of burning the ships?

Hernán Cortés came to the New World with six hundred troops in 1519 and created history by sinking his ships. This delivered a strong message to his men: there is no going back.

2. Why did Caesar burn his ships?

When Caesar’s forces arrived at the coast, they quickly discovered the Celts had many more men, which drove them to panic and begin preparing their boats for a quick escape.

Thus, Caesar burned all the boats, forcing the soldiers to battle and winning their complete devotion.

3. Why did the Vikings burn their boats?

The Viking tradition of burning their boats is usually reserved for rare events such as celebrating the impending New Year by burning away old spirits and welcoming in new spirits or honoring the death of a Viking Warrior.

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