Skip to main content

How To Unleash Your Full Potential

To accomplish something great, author Matt Higgins says you need to toss your Plan B overboard and burn the boats. “You have to give yourself no escape route, no chance to ever turn back. You throw away your backup plans and your push forward, no longer bogged down by the infinite ways in which we hedge our own successes.”

You’ll learn plenty more about what it means to burn the boats, how to unleash your full potential, and how to tear down your barriers to achieving success in Higgins’ new book, Burn The Boats – a business-advice and self-help book.

Five of the most powerful takeaways are these according to Higgins:

  1. Trust your instincts and reject conventional wisdom: We are the only ones who know the full extent of our gifts, and the paths we are meant to follow.
  2. Proprietary insights are the keys to game-changing businesses: you don’t need a unique project to start an empire, just an intuition all your own.
  3. Your deepest flaws can be fuel for your greatest triumphs: Your shame and trauma can be the assets that drive you, not the anchors that weight you down.
  4. Act on the lightning, don’t wait for thunder: A flash of opportunity is first glimpsed long before the unmistakable tipping point of evidence; if you wait to act until others validate your vision, it’s too late.
  5. Embrace crisis: What initially seems unendurable may turn out to be the catalyst that takes you to the next level and unlocks your full potential.

Higgins is co-founder and CEO of private investment firm RSE Ventures and a lecturer and Executive Fellow at Harvard Business School. He was a guest shark on ABC’s Shark Tank seasons 10 and 11.


Matt Higgins

Today, Higgins shares these insights with us:

Question: What is the ‘Burn the Boats’ philosophy? 

Higgins: Forget Plan B! This is the biggest takeaway, and the foundation of my entire book. Research bears it out – even the mere contemplation of a Plan B statistically reduces the probability Plan A will ever materialize. The reason is energy leakage. When I say the phrase “Burn the Boats,” many people reflexively recoil at the idea, confusing total commitment with risk mitigation. 

These are not mutually exclusive concepts. In fact, they are inextricably linked. You can’t commit when you haven't processed the worst-case scenario and made provisions for it. Burn The Boats teases apart the excuses we make to ourselves that hinder total commitment and illuminates the internal and external forces that impede risk taking. I break down the archetypes of naysayers in the corporate setting that stymie innovation – for example, the Withholders who deny praise in order to destabilize rising stars, especially those who are wired to be pleasers. 

But I didn’t want to write a book that is thought provoking but not actionable. I interviewed 50 different founders, athletes, artists, activists, NFL coaches and celebrities, many of whom I have mentored and advised – from billionaire Marc Lore to Scarlett Johansson – to illustrate strategies for total commitment. 

Question: You say you can predict CEO failure based on one thing. What is it?

Higgins: Winners are iterative creatures. The best leaders make course corrections before they have no other choice. I believe I can forecast the success of an individual leader based on the amount of time it takes for them to change direction when the outcome is objectively inevitable. The ones who resist making those decisions – who won’t cannibalize their own hero product or won’t terminate the toxic star employee – tend to be insecure and driven by ego or other impure motives. The best leaders demonstrate a rare mix of confidence and humility – the confidence to abandon their own bad ideas quickly and the humility to admit they were wrong in the first place. 

Burn the Boats is based on the idea of ‘perpetual pursuit’. What do you say to those who think it sounds more like a recipe for ‘perpetual discontent’? 

I say, think back to when you felt most alive. Was it the week after you achieved the impossible or the week before? Science knows the answer because the topic has been studied extensively. It’s what marathon runners and Olympians know too well: the achievement never lives up to the pursuit. Success and contentment are built on striving; achieving at even the highest level doesn’t obviate the longing. The sooner we accept that fact, the happier we will be, and construct a life built upon a commitment to perpetual growth – and burning more boats! 

Question: You tell your students to think about who they want to be, not what they want to be. Can you explain the difference? 

Higgins: I find that when people are professionally dissatisfied, it’s not because they made the wrong decision when choosing a job; it’s because they failed to ask the right questions at the outset. These are the existential questions that frame the best choices. Am I a creator or an executor? Do I thrive in ambiguity or structure? Do I want to spend my day thinking or doing? 

Question: Why is collaboration in the workplace not always a good thing? 

Higgins: Collaboration for collaboration’s sake leads to regression to the mean, the lowest common denominator likely to upset the least amount of people. That works for mundane undertakings, but birthing exceptionalism is a lonely endeavor. 

By definition, revolutionary ideas and products are meant to be rejected long before they are embraced. And time spent prematurely cultivating buy-in and fostering consensus just amounts to energy leakage. 

That’s why I tell entrepreneurs to be careful who you consult with your nascent dreams. Innovation needs time to achieve escape velocity and build up enough momentum to withstand forces of resistance. If you consult skeptics and cynics early in the journey, the idea may never have a chance to get off the ground. I believe in consulting pragmatic optimists during the launch phase of an idea and saving the skeptics for more sturdy iterations. 

Question: How does organizational hierarchy train us to accept terrible working conditions and crush entrepreneurial spirit? 

Higgins: Forget "paying your dues." There is no preordained sequence to success. Incrementalism squanders potential. The greatest spoils go to those who refuse to follow the typical roadmap and consider making bold step changes. 

We are conditioned to believe that our careers must unfold like layers of sedimentary rock, one built on the next. I believe the opposite: before falling in line, consider stepping out altogether and making a step change: a break in progression that does not necessarily flow from previous experience. 

I had never taught a day in my life before I spent a year creating a new course at Harvard Business School. But I knew I had it in me, and before settling for anything less than the best business school in the world, I took a run at it. I mentor people all the time and this is the number one assumption I challenge. These conversations have led to many amazing stories of accelerated growth that I cover in the book. 

That is not to say experience and expertise don’t matter. Of course, they do. I just argue that we tend to erect barriers to our own progression before first considering if we might be able to vault over the bar instead.

Thank you to the book's publisher for sending me an advance copy of the book.


Popular posts from this blog

Effective Listening: Do's And Don'ts

Here are some great tips from Michelle Tillis Lederman's book, The 11 Laws of Likability .  They are all about: what to do and what not to do to be a leader who's an effective listener : Do : Maintain eye contact Limit your talking Focus on the speaker Ask questions Manage your emotions Listen with your eyes and ears Listen for ideas and opportunities Remain open to the conversation Confirm understanding, paraphrase Give nonverbal messages that you are listening (nod, smile) Ignore distractions Don't : Interrupt Show signs of impatience Judge or argue mentally Multitask during a conversation Project your ideas Think about what to say next Have expectations or preconceived ideas Become defensive or assume you are being attacked Use condescending, aggressive, or closed body language Listen with biases or closed to new ideas Jump to conclusions or finish someone's sentences

The Four Components That Create Customer Satisfaction

Great customer service tips from author Micah Solomon's new book, High-tech, High-touch Customer Service : You provide value when you deliver the four components that reliably create customer satisfaction : A perfect product or service Delivered in a caring, friendly manner On time (as defined by the customer) With the backing of an effective problem-resolution process Micah has been named by the Financial Post as “a new guru of customer service excellence.” He is a keynote speaker and consultant on customer service issues, the customer experience, and company culture.  He previously coauthored the bestselling Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit .      

How To Lead An Empowered Workforce

The new book, The Empathy Advantage , speaks to anyone with responsibility for recruiting, engaging, leading and retaining the next generation of workers – a workforce shaped by the pandemic that fundamentally transformed the relationship between individuals and organizations.   Not surprising, managers at every level are struggling to adapt to this new dynamic, balancing both employee satisfaction and corporate productivity. Quiet Quitting, Great Resignation, and Great Reset have all become code words to describe the trendlines that have been building for years. Accelerated change driven by exponentially advancing technologies have made steep learning curves part of every day work.   Fortunately, book authors Heather C. McGowan and Chris Shipley , unpack the five interlocking trends that placed agency in the hands of workers:   The Great Resignation The Great Refusal The Great Reshuffle The Great Retirement The Great Relocation   …collectively delivering the Gr

Good Sample Business Principles

I really like these 10 guiding business principles that San Antonio, TX headquartered insurance company  USAA  lives by: Exceed customer expectations Live the Golden Rule (treat others with courtesy and respect) Be a leader Participate and contribute Pursue excellence Work as a team Share knowledge Keep it simple (make it easy for customers to do business with us and for us to work together) Listen and communicate Have fun Too many companies don't make it simple for their customers to do business with them.  Is it easy for your customers to: Buy from you? Make returns? Get pricing and terms? Receive timely responses to their e-mails? Quickly get answers when phoning your company? You can find more examples of companies with impressive guiding principles in the book, 1001 Ways To Energize Employees .

6 Ways To Seek Feedback To Improve Your Performance In The Workplace

Getting feedback is an important way to improve performance at work. But sometimes, it can be hard to seek out, and even harder to hear.  “Feedback is all around you. Your job is to find it, both through asking directly and observing it,” says David L. Van Rooy, author of the new book,  Trajectory: 7 Career Strategies to Take You From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be . As today's guest post, Van Rooy offers these  six tips for how to get the feedback you need to improve performance at work . Guest Post By David L. Van Rooy 1.       Don’t forget to as k :  One of the biggest mistakes people make is assuming things are going perfectly (until they make a catastrophic mistake). By not asking, you’re missing out on opportunities for deep feedback: the difficult, critical feedback that gives you constructive ways to improve. 2.       Make sure you listen :  Remember, getting feedback is about improving your performance, not turning it into a “you versus the

The Seven Roles Of Being A Collaborative Leader

Edward M. Marshall 's book,  Transforming The Way We Work -- The Power Of The Collaborative Workplace , remains relevant today, more than a decade after Marshall wrote it. Particularly useful is the book's section that teaches readers  how to be a collaborative leader . Marshall says that there are  seven different, important roles and responsibilities of collaborative leaders when leading teams , and those leaders should select the appropriate style to meet the team's needs. The seven roles are : The leader as sponsor  -- You provide strategic direction, boundaries and coaching for the team. You also monitor progress and ensure integrity in the team's operating processes. The leader as facilitator  -- You ensure that meetings, team dynamics, and interpersonal relationships function effectively. You also ensure internal coordination of activities among team members. The leader as coach  -- You provide support and guidance and you serve as a sounding board. The leader as

Seven Ways To Delight Your Customers

If you want to delight your customers, then the book by  Steve Curtin ,  Delight Your Customers -- 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary , is a must-read for you and your employees. The book explains the  seven ways  for you and your employees to demonstrate  exceptional customer service : Express genuine interest Offer sincere and specific compliments Share unique knowledge Convey authentic enthusiasm Use appropriate humor Provide pleasant surprises Deliver service heroics "Exceptional customer service typically costs no more to deliver than poor customer service," explains Curtin. For example: How much does it cost to express genuine interest in customers or to anticipate their needs? Does it cost more to display a sense of urgency or to pay attention to detail? Do you pay your employees more to smile, to make eye contact, or to add energy to their voices? Curtin reminds readers that: Customers don't establish relationships with bus

When Leaders Should Coach And When To Counsel

A good manager is both a  coach  and a  counselor .  Generally, coaching should precede counseling. As a coach ,   a manager: identifies an employee's need for instruction and direction and this need is usually directly related to his or her performance or career goals. Coaching is collaborative. It relies on mutual, progressive goal-setting, personal feedback, and an ongoing, supportive relationship. You coach to help retain employees and to show you care about your employees as individuals. It's best to coach when a new procedure is introduced, a job is changed, and/or a skill gap is identified. As a counselor , a manager first identifies a problem that interferes with an employee's work performance and then helps the employee to define specifically what behavior he or she needs to change in order to improve his or her performance or resolve a problem. So, the difference between coach and counselor is subtle, but important. And, as Sharon Armstrong further shares in her b

How Women In Corporate Leadership Are Rewriting The Rules For Success

  “We are living through a moment in history when the old definitions of success and what it takes to lead are giving way to something that is altogether more collaborative and more inclusive,” says Jenna C. Fisher , author of the new book, To The Top: How Women In Corporate Leadership Are Rewriting The Rules For Success .  “We are seeing a demand for leaders who cultivate a kind of compassionate command,” adds Fisher.  In her book, Fisher outlines how collectively we can permanently build a more inclusive way of working into corporate culture to launch more women to the highest echelons of business. Her approach puts the onus on organizations, not on the individual, to change and keep women on a sustained path to success.  In the United States, women account for 51% of the population and 70% of high school valedictorians. Yet, only 9% of the largest 100 companies in the S&P500 index are led by women, shares Fisher.  Combining cutting-edge research with the stories of power

How Leaders Use Four Workarounds To Tackle Complex Problems

  “Workarounds are effective, versatile, and accessible methods for tackling complex problems,” shares the author of the new book, The Four Workarounds . “They are a creative, flexible, imperfection-loving, problem-solving approach. A method that ignores or even challenges conventions on how, and by whom a problem is meant to be solved.”   In Part 1 of this fascinating and instructional book, author and Oxford University professor, Paulo Savaget , explains what workarounds are and how to come up with them. And, then in Part 2, he digs into how to cultivate a workaround attitude and mindset, including how to reflect on the ways you typically see, judge, and approach obstacles.   “I also show you how you can systematically conceive workarounds to your problems and how your workplace can become more workaround friendly,” adds Savaget.   You’ll read intriguing and revealing stories of how some of the largest and scrappiest companies and organizations used one or more of the four workaround