“You are your own worst enemy. You waste precious time dreaming of the future instead of engaging in the present. Since nothing seems urgent to you, you are only half involved in what you do. The only way to change is through action and outside pressure. Put yourself in situations where you have too much at stake to waste time or resources – if you cannot afford to lose, you won’t. Cut your ties to the past; enter unknown territory where you must depend on your wits and energy to see you through. Place yourself on “death ground,” where your back is against the wall and you have to fight like hell to get out alive.”
~ Brian Greene – 33 Strategies of War
Should aspiring entrepreneurs be like Hernán Cortés, the Spanish conquistador who, in order to motivate his troops, scuttled his ships so that there was no possibility of retreat?
According to the author Robert Greene, this is known as the Death-Ground Strategy which is essentially an all-in bet. You either win gloriously or lose horribly, but there will be no doubt about which one it is.
In the context of entrepreneurship, this might mean quitting your day job, maxing out your credit card, telling your significant other that he or she may not see you for a long, long time, and committing yourself fully to making your business a reality (all before you have any revenue).
But is this really a good idea or just a romanticized notion that fails more often than it succeeds? Is it better to test out the entrepreneurial waters before diving in head-first? Is the go big or go home mindset really wise for aspiring entrepreneurs, or is a more cautious approach the sensible solution?
In contrast to the Death Ground Strategy, a sabbatical is a more conservative approach to taking risks that Universities and now some forward-leaning companies offer to their faculty and employees.
A sabbatical can be paid or unpaid, but is essentially a leave of absence for a faculty member or employee to explore a research topic or entrepreneurial opportunity in depth and for a set period of time.
George Roche, a consultant at Deloitte, took at four-month entrepreneurial sabbatical to start a B-Corporation called Small Small. Forbes published an article on his experience which outlines the benefits for the employee-entrepreneur and the employer, as well as some tips on how to make a strong argument in favour of the sabbatical. It’s well worth reading.
Obviously, an entrepreneurial sabbatical is not an option for everyone or every institution, but the principles behind it are applicable to most start-ups. Essentially, a sabbatical is a way to diversify entrepreneurial risk by committing to a project for a set period of time, but without burning one’s bridges first.