Burn the Boats: Ensuring Digital Transformation Success

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A common characteristic of successful leadership is tied to several repetitive factors that generally include two key tenants: tenacity and focus. Equally essential is alignment of a strong team to execute the vision. Without tenacity and focus, a goal cannot be achieved or is achieved at a slow pace, sometimes surpassing the premium value of the goal itself. I have met many leaders who exhibit these characteristics.  However, there is a magnitude of options that if followed tenaciously and aggressively will limit your success and achievement of your goals.

The key differentiator for individual, personal and corporate success can be found time and time again in focus and bold decision making. When I speak with peers, partners and professionals evaluating their options, timing, and method of the eminent digital transformation ahead, I give the same advice time and time again: “Burn the Boats” and move forward boldly.

A Trip Through Time

Why “Burn the Boats”? As a child, I was continuously reminded that I could do anything I set my mind to and I now tell my children the same thing every day. The opportunities in front of my young children are far greater than they were for me, but I wonder if I am misleading them by passing along the advice I received from my own mother.  The world is full of opportunity and it is overwhelming. How can I help them focus their scope and commit to a decision? The answer came to me a few weeks back as I read through my child’s history lesson. Although historian’s dispute the veracity of Hernán Cortés burning his boats, the dramatic storyline is a great leadership lesson and a bold, strategic move.

Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro Altamirano, Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca was a Spanish Conquistador who led an expedition that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire and brought large portions of mainland Mexico under the rule of the King of Castile in the early 16th century. Cortés was part of the generation who began the first phase of the Spanish colonization of the Americas. Legend has it that when Cortés and 600 men arrived in Mexico in 1519, after a long and perilous voyage across the Atlantic, he gave the order to “Burn the Boats.”  The Spanish conquistador’s order was given prior to his stunning mission of battling, defeating and plundering the riches of the entire Aztec Empire. Can you imagine? The focus and tenacity with which his men conquered the Aztec empire was a result of having no other options, no way home.

Focus on Digital Transaction Success

There is no waffling about if your business, whether it is rooted in the finance of furniture, complex secondary market activity or mortgage, will be disrupted by competitors conducting fully digital transactions. The electronic signature and vaulting curve of adoption is at the peak of the curve. Yes, you can still use paper and conduct business. Yes, you can go partially electronic. There are many options.  However, I urge you to “Burn the Boats” and go 100% digital from signature through finance and resale of your electronic assets. Elon Musk, a great visionary of our time, is quoted as saying, “There is nothing wrong with putting all of your eggs in one basket as long as you can control what happens to that basket.” Going digital is eminent, why not control your destiny and your “eggs”?

We have seen incredible growth in the digital financial ecosystem across asset classes—Quicken Loans and Fannie Mae in mortgage, Westlake Financial and J.D. Byrider in auto finance, Upstart in marketplace lending and Pawnee Leasing in the Equipment Lease and Finance sector—just to name a few. It’s great to see these various stakeholders leading the transformation across industries and “Burning the Boats” so to speak.

Whether you are raising children, changing the world (mutually exclusive in my humble opinion) or taking your company to the next level, we can all learn from the concept of limiting our options and creating focus around our mission.


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