Victus Spiritus


Scorched Earth Strategy

06 Jun 2011

Scorched Earth is an undeniable pattern in fields as diverse as 16th century sea exploration, blogging, company building, and client services directed by fire breathing Dinobots.

Why did Steve Rubel nuke a few of his blogs and wipe the slate clean? To declare a new flag ship for his thoughts. (blogging link above)

In military circles, a scorched earth policy - according to Wikipedia - is a strategy which involves destroying anything that might be useful to the enemy while advancing through or withdrawing from a given theater of operations.

Perhaps its symbolic, but that’s exactly the approach I took to my digital presence this past Memorial Day weekend. I started a fresh new site on the future of media over on Tumblr. Then I promptly turned around and slashed both my TypePad-powered blog, which I ran from 2004 to 2009, and my Posterous blog, which I started with some fanfare back in 2009. With just two clicks of a mouse I rid the web of literally thousands of blog posts, some of which I am proud of - others less so - and redirected the URLs to the new site.

Let's change gears from readers, to customers. Join me for a quick stroll down memory lane with Seth Godin circa 2006 on the topic of firing customers: (company building link above)

The answer might surprise you. It's the unwritten rule 3 on Stew Leonard's famous granite rock:
If the customer is wrong, they're not your customer any more.

In other words, if it's not worth making the customer right, fire her.

Successful organizations (and I include churches and political parties on the list) fire the 1% of their constituents that cause 95% of the pain.
Fire them?

Fire them. Politely decline to do business with them. Refer them to your arch competitors. Take them off the mailing list. Don't make promises you can't keep, don't be rude, just move on.

If you've got something worth paying for, you gain power when you refuse to offer it to every single person who is willing to pay you.

A wise friend Fake Grimlok, with an uncanny sense of humor, wit and wisdom, paints the Scorched Earth client model, enriched by Denton Gentry's colloquial unixism.

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My 2 cents

The mental image of burning the ships is an indelible shadow etched into the walls of my subconscious 1. It's strength is such that whenever I see anything resembling no retreat, no surrender, I can't resist being inspired by the boldness of the act.

Eliminating the path of retreat steels nerves and focuses attention forward. It eliminates fear induced distractions, such that our full cognitive and physical potential is liberated. For a man who seeks to experience unbounded freedom, I should pay heed to environments where retreat is an impossibility.

Words are such fragile constructs, yet they suffice to carry our hopes and dreams. Virtual objects such as this blog post are malleable and ephemeral by their nature. It takes very little energy to boil them back down into the primordial ooze of disorganized bits. On the other extreme it takes significant effort to build a reliable platform for self expression, mnemonic enhancement and critical discussion2.

The strategy I take when building a reliable resource (this blog/a company) is to maintain a few ground rules. Above all else I try (but don't always succeed) to maintain URLs so that the address to a specific article or product is stable. In addition public interfaces are sacred, and I'd bend over backwards to maintain old interfaces. An interface like a URL is a promise to the future that this resource will be available and reliable. Both reliability and availability ultimately depend on cost and revenue.

If a link to an old resource (discrete information bundle) is broken, it's a lost opportunity. If a public interface is broken it's a potentially lost client. I'd hate to inhibit or end a curiosity fueled, web browsing, link jam session. It's been far too long since I've enjoyed one of those. Even worse would be to leave a customer stranded without additional developer support. You keep your promises, in the network economy reputation is more precious than gold.


  1. Last year I took a lifeline offered graciously at my day job, increasing my financial stability, but causing a rift between the world I desire (startups/web dev), and the world I live in (big c++ sims and apps) .

    At the time I was concerned my web development skills weren't adequate to cover our living expenses (wife and I share a small home). Since that compromise I've had that fear confirmed by tasting a couple of rejections.

    Fortunately none were so bitter as to have the slightest affect on my stubborn determination to succeed as a tech entrepreneur. Patience and study are becoming welcome allies on the long road ahead.

  2. I believe it was Seth G. who suggested his blog took on a life of its own around 1500 posts (I'll verify the source once I'm back online). I have under a couple of years before I hit that mark, giving me plenty of time to refine my craft.

    I'll need every entry to practice coalescing abstract concepts into cogent posts, on the diversity of topics that I feel strongly about.