When is it Time to Burn the Ships?

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Ten years ago, I had a decision to make that would have major professional and personal repercussions.

While building my then-new coaching and consulting business, I had always had the safety net of teaching a class or two every semester at the university. It wasn’t a lot of money by far, but it ensured that my rent was paid and the lights were on each month.

But I had reached a point in business development where I was starting to get a lot of requests to travel around the country to speak at conferences or run training programs for clients, and the dates often conflicted with my teaching schedule.

I couldn’t postpone classes or get substitute after substitute to lead the lectures, but I also couldn’t afford to keep turning down the contract work, especially when it was far more lucrative than what I was making by teaching a class that same day.

I had a choice to make: Either cling to the safety net of teaching and accept that the business would never grow beyond what it was at that point, or let go of the security of the small-but-consistent teaching paycheck, put my money where my mouth was, and put all my effort into business development.

I opted for door #2, and ended my teaching contract.

It was official: I had “burned the ships,” and there was no going back.

There comes a time when we all have to make all-or-none decisions that commit us to a specific path moving forward, for better or worse.

This week on the Speaking to Influence podcastSkip HowardFounder and CEO of Spacee, lets us in on times when he also had to light that proverbial match.

Spacee uses artificial intelligence and robots to accurately fulfill online grocery orders, and improve the customer experience. (If you’ve never done grocery shopping online, that basically means delivering the items you actually ordered!)

One year when funds were extremely limited, to the point where investors and staff all agreed they absolutely could not afford to sponsor a big booth at a major industry conference, Skip pushed back.

He had an unconventional vision of what was possible, and was committed to seeing it built, for pennies on the dollar from their usual budget.

Armed with a U-Haul truck, grocery store props, and a very capable (if skeptical) team, they put the company’s reputation (and presumably, their own jobs) on the line and drove cross-country to the conference.

In the 11th hour, they built a mini grocery store right there on the expo floor. Not only did they successfully showcase their amazing new technology, but it gave the conference-goers a truly unique, first-hand, interactive experience that they would never forget.

Listen to the full conversation here or watch the video on YouTube here.


But that’s not the only time Skip pulled out all the stops. Skip also promoted a “burn the ships” mentality during the height of Covid, pushing the team to innovate proactively and aggressively, encouraging them to “fail fast” without fear, knowing that they could no longer rely on old ways of operating. This inspired calculated risk taking despite difficult circumstances.

What other insights did he share? For starters:

  • how he suffered from imposter syndrome earlier in his career when talking about AI to experts
  • how a mindset shift helped him control his nerves when presenting: he learned to focus on providing value to his listeners, rather than worrying about being judged
  • how taking his team on field trips to see their products in action provided a far greater boost in buy-in, productivity and excitement than just sitting behind the desk.
  • how he worked up the courage to approach Ross Perot Jr. and ask him to invest in Skip’s startup

and more.

I’ll also let you in on one more timely fun fact: Skip was adopted as a child, and now as an adult, he also adopted his oldest daughter, and feels nothing but gratitude and love for both his (adoptive) parents and daughter alike.

So in the spirit of Valentine’s Day tomorrow, here’s an ethusiastic reminder and invitation reminder to join me any time this month for “Hearts In Motion,” the virtual 5k Race in support of the Adoption Center’s mission of helping older children in the foster care system find “forever families” who will love them as their own.

Register (or just donate) on the website, and walk/jog 5k (3.1 miles), then register your walk on the Racery website (you’ll get the link when you register for the race), then you’re done!

Helping a child find the love of a family… and helping a current/future parent know the love of a child… there’s no better kind of love to celebrate! So check it out.

Forget burning the ships; you’ll never WANT to go back!


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