Getting More without Settling for Less

In 1519 Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico with 600 Spaniards and 11 boats. The conquistador and his men had just embarked on a conquest of the Aztec empire, one that hoarded a cache of the world’s greatest treasures—gold, silver, and precious jewels. Cortes undertook this mission knowing that for centuries other conquerors with far more resources had attempted to colonize the Yucatan Peninsula, but none had ever succeeded. Cortes changed the course of history, however, with three words: “Burn the boats.”

Cortes wasn’t the first man to ensure victory with a bold strategic decision, however. A thousand years earlier, Alexander the Great also burned his boats upon arrival on the shores of Persia. Like ...

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