Burn the Boats: Toss Plan B Overboard and Unleash Your Full Potential
By Matt Higgins
William Morrow; hardcover, 288 pages; $29.99
Matt Higgins is the co-founder and CEO of private investment firm RSE Ventures and an executive fellow at Harvard Business School, where he co-teaches the course Moving Beyond DTC. He has appeared as a guest shark on Shark Tank seasons 10 and 11, and is set to star in a new spinoff also executive produced by Mark Burnett.
The Queens, New York, native hawked flowers and scraped gum under tables at McDonald's to help feed his family. On a mission to escape poverty as fast as possible and provide for his home-bound mother, he dropped out of high school, took his GED, and enrolled in college at just 16 years old. He eventually earned his juris doctorate from Fordham Law at night while working full-time.
Higgins was appointed the youngest Mayor's press secretary in New York City history at 26, and managed the global media response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks under Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He then became one of the first employees, and eventually the Chief Operating Officer, of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which was created to rebuild the World Trade Center site. He helped organize the largest international design competition in history culminating in Reflecting Absence, the September 11th National Memorial, and the development of the 1,776-feet-tall One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the northern hemisphere.
Then, Higgins delved into a career in sports, where he spent 15 years in senior leadership positions with National Football League teams. He made his mark with two NFL franchises, as he oversaw the revenue functions of the New York Jets as Executive Vice President of Business Operations, and then served as Vice Chairman of the Miami Dolphins from 2012 through 2021.
Higgins, alongside developer and Dolphins owner Stephen M. Ross, cofounded New York City-based RSE Ventures in 2012. RSE successfully backed many challenger brands from inception, including RESY, an Open Table competitor that American Express acquired in 2019; the Drone Racing League, which was named among Fast Company's 10 Most Innovative Sports Companies; and Relevent Sports, the leading international soccer agency in the United States.
In his new, inspirational book, Burn the Boats, Higgins shares his no-regrets approach and how you can develop the firm resolve to unleash your potential.
The title is inspired by Sun Tzu's The Art of War, which argues for burning your army's boats and cooking pots to signal that the only way home is through victory. New York Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan, who led them to a pair of AFC Championship game appearances in 2009 and '10, invoked the same principle leading the team through those playoff runs. It also might be said that Volodymyr Zelensky is copying the same playbook in Ukraine today.
"Too many of us are driven by fear, waiting for the perfect moment to act. We subconsciously construct an insidious safety net that becomes our undoing," Higgins says. "The mere contemplation of a Plan B weakens our resolve and diminishes our chance for breakout success."
Burn the Boats will give you these five strategies to help you design your own destiny:
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.
Proprietary insights are the keys to game-changing businesses: You don't need a unique product to start an empire, just an intuition all your own.
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 weigh you down.
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.
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 says of his 'Burn the Boats' philosophy, "Forget Plan B! This is the biggest takeaway, and the foundation of my entire book. Research bears it out - event 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."
On Burn the Boats being based on the idea of "perpetual pursuit," Higgins says, 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!"