The danger of “one last push” in Startups
Richard Rummelt in his book “Good Strategy Bad Strategy” describes a very tragic episode of WWI.
When war broke out in 1914, jubilant crowds jammed the streets of cities, and young men hurled hats in the air as they marched off to prove themselves. The philosophy of the age, most fervently adopted by the French, was that willpower, spirit, morale, élan, and aggressiveness were the keys to success. For three years, generals flung highly motivated men at fortified machine-gun emplacements, only to see tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands shredded to mincemeat to gain a mile of useless ground.
In 1917, around the village of Passchendale in Flanders, British general Douglas Haig planned an assault. He wanted to break through the Germans’ fortified lines and open up a path to the sea, dividing the German army. He had been advised that shelling the German fortified positions would destroy the dikes and flood the below-see-level fields. He shelled the German fortification anyway. The shelling broke the dikes and churned the rich soil to sticky yellow clay, a quagmire that men sank into up their knees and bellies. It drowned tanks, horses, and the wounded.
Haig, stung by the death of 100,000 British troops at the Somme a year earlier, had promised to call off the advance if it didn’t go well. It didn’t, yet the doctrine of motivation and “one last push” continued for three months.
[…] Over three months of battle, five miles of ground were gained and more than 70,000 allied soldiers died in the muck. Another 250,000 were wounded.
Winston Churchill described Passchendale as “a forlorn expenditure of valor and life without equal in futility”
I often hear that “our strategy is hard work, last push, and strong commitment” and cringe internally as it reminds me of the history lesson above. It’s quite dangerous
Hard work is definitely a strong indicator of future success, but it’s not the only one and it shouldn’t be the only one.
We must know the main obstacles that prevent us from reaching the goal and have a somewhat realistic plan on how we’ll break them or avoid them.
We must innovate and develop a strategy from day 1