in Excerpts, Wisdom

Burn Your Ships: Options Distract Us from Our Main Objective

Predictably Irrational

Predictably Irrational

“In 210 BC, a Chinese commander named Xiang Yu led his troops across the Yangtze River to attack the army of the Qin (Ch’in) dynasty. Pausing on the banks of the river for the night, his troops awakened in the morning to find, to their horror, that their ships were burning. They hurried to their feet to fight off their attackers, but soon discovered that it was Xiang Yu himself who had set their ships on fire, and that he had also ordered all the cooking pots crushed.

Xiang Yu explained to his troops that without the pots and the ships, they had no other choice but to fight their way to victory or perish. That did not earn Xiang Yu a place on the Chinese army’s list of favorite commanders, but it did have a tremendous focusing effect on his troops: grabbing their lances and bows, they charged ferociously against the enemy and won nine consecutive battles, completely obliterating the main-force units of the Qin dynasty.”

Excerpt from Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely.

Note: This reminds me of the documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. In the film, a young child (who would go on to become the world’s greatest sushi chef) faces a similar trial:

“I was in my first year of school. My father told me ‘You have no home to come back to. That is why you have to work hard.’ I knew that I was on my own. I did not want to have to sleep at a temple or under a bridge. So, I had to work hard just to survive.”