Almost 500 years ago, in 1519 AD, he gave an order that sealed the fate of Tenochtitlan, Mexico. Cortez sank his ships, and the Spanish conquest of the Mayan empire began.
A fleet of hardly 800 conquistadors would go on to conquer an empire of millions. This success all began in the bay of Veracruz. Word spread of mutiny throughout Cortez’s camp. Many of the men were loyal to the governor of Cuba, a man who did not want the journey to go ahead. The mutineers sought to end Cortez’s expedition—believing he did not have the authority.
Cortez knew the numbers the Maya held. With his modest force, he understood that they must rely on unity and cohesion to have a chance of victory. He quashed the mutiny and hung the ringleaders. But it was his next action that both divided and united his men. He sunk their ships.
There is no failure. We succeed, or we die. The soldiers no longer had time for dissension or gossip—their lives were on the line. It’s the man or woman with nothing to lose that we fear most. They fight with a ferociousness that we see all throughout history. When we have nowhere to go, we move forward without hesitation.
These 800 men went on to conquer an empire because plan B was at the bottom of the ocean.
The danger of plan B
There’s nothing wrong with a backup plan. Life doesn’t always go the way we imagine. We know this. That’s why we create a plan B. The problem with a plan B is that we reach for it far too early. As soon A doesn’t work out, we move on—never reaching success that might have only been one more struggle away.
The best captains go down with their ship. Imagine if there were no lifeboats? That’s when the mind turns on, and ingenuity is sparked.
Thomas Edison—the inventor of the lightbulb—had another trick. During his press interviews, he would set deadlines and promise devices that weren’t ready. An inventor’s plan B is time. It’s the same for most of us. If something isn’t ready, we put it off. We wait. It ends up sitting on the shelf or in our minds and never becoming what it could have been.
Perfect is the enemy of good.Voltaire
No choice but to succeed
Edison knew the liability of plan B. Like Cortez, he took action. By speaking to the press, he made promises that must be kept. This left him with no choice. The shame and embarrassment of not delivering on these promises would be career-ending. Without the safety blanket of time, there was no choice but to invent and create now. This is why Edison was such a prolific inventor—he was propelled by the constant drip of urgency. The kind of urgency that inspires the mind to step out of its comfort zone and do its best work.
History is changed by the people who sink their ships. Only these people have the dedicated focus to succeed. When you have no options, you find solutions you never thought existed and take action you never thought yourself capable of.
It’s failure that makes us hungry for success and poverty that makes us hungry for wealth. You might have every disadvantage against you, but you can turn your weakness into your greatest strength. You have no plan B. No trust fund, no parents to bail you out, no meal ticket—and that’s what makes you dangerous. You have no option but to succeed.Published in