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Vol. 1, No. 6
(626) 791-8973

The Fundamental Lesson: Commit Fully to a Definite Objective*

© 2003 By William A. Cohen, PhD

* From  The Road to Victory: The Ten Essential Lessons of Strategy, a forthcoming book to be published by AMACOM

Everywhere you look, you see people who should not even attempt what they attempt. But they are so committed to a definite objective that more often than anyone can believe possible, their strategies are successful and they win. Jesse “the Body” Ventura, the former professional wrestler, became Governor of Minnesota after professional politicians told him, “There is no way you can accomplish this – no former professional wrestler has ever been elected to public office.” Neither of the major political parties would support him. But Ventura persisted against the odds with his clear and definite goal always before him and he won anyway despite what the experts said. How did this happen? The basis is the fundamental lesson of strategy: commitment to a definite objective.

The First Rule of All Success

Napoleon Hill, a lawyer turned newspaperman was commissioned by the then wealthiest man in the world, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie to uncover the secret of success. Hill spent twenty years on his research and wrote several books about his discoveries. But rule number one was what Hill called “definiteness of purpose.” Another words, every successful individual that Hill interviewed and studied, from Henry Ford to Thomas Edison had a commitment to a definite objective. About the same time, a general was analyzing what caused success in battle strategy. He found that the foundation of all successful battle strategy was built on three components.

The Foundational on Which Commitment is Built

It was a British strategist, Major General J.F.C. Fuller, who first articulated the concept of an order consisting of the three aspects of physical, mental, and moral forces, on which all strategy is based. General Fuller wrote many books on strategy based on his personal observations and analysis beginning with his personal participation in the fighting during World War I. Fuller wrote that the concept of these three forces is “a foundation so universal that it may be considered axiomatic to knowledge in all its forms.”

The physical force he described has to do actual physical strength or resources; the mental force with knowledge or intelligence; and the moral force with attitudinal or spiritual values. According to Fuller, who was writing about strategy in war, “Mental force does not win a war; moral force does not win a war; physical force does not win a war; but what does win a war is the highest combination of the these three forces acting as one force.”

When we analyze any successful strategy after a competition, business or otherwise, we will invariably find that the basis of the victory is the commitment of the strategist based on these three forces. Governor Ventura won his election, even though it appeared that he had no chance, because he had a commitment to the definite objective of gaining the governorship of Minnesota which was based on the physical, mental, and moral forces which he was able to bring to bear acting together synergistically.

The Magic of Commitment to an Objective

Several years ago I did the research which resulted in the book, The Stuff of Heroes: The Eight Universal Laws of Leadership (Longstreet Press, 1998). I surveyed and interviewed more than 200 combat leaders from all military services and from all ranks from private through four-star general and admiral. I asked these battle veterans, all of which had gone on to extraordinary positions of leadership in civilian life, what if anything they had learned from leading in combat that they successfully applied in their civilian careers. In fact, I asked for three specific items.

I thought I would get hundreds of ideas and would write a book of leadership ideas the size of a small encyclopedia. I was amazed to discover that ninety-five percent of the responses I received fell into only eight categories. That’s where I got the title of the book that I actually wrote on the subject. One of these eight laws of leadership was to show uncommon commitment. What’s so special about showing uncommon commitment? Why do others follow a leader who demonstrates this quality both on and off the battlefield? Psychologists have identified two main reasons why showing uncommon commitment yields such dramatic results:

  • It proves that the goal is worthwhile and really important.
  • It proves that the leader isn’t going to quit.

We Go All Out Only for Important Goals

We don’t exert themselves very much for small, unimportant goals. We and others who would support us work hard, take great risks, and let nothing stop them only for big, important goals. That’s why leaders who try to play down the difficulty of a task, or strategists who think too small make a big mistake. It is far better to be honest with yourself and others and tell things exactly as they are no matter how serious the situation or how much the effort will require.

Big Goal, Big Task, Big Success

A few years ago, Amilya Antonetti said she was going to break into the $4.7 billion U.S. laundry-detergent market. Everyone knew this was impossible. But as Peter Drucker contends, “What everyone knows is usually wrong.” Large corporations like Proctor & Gamble dominate that business. Amilya consulted industry experts. According to her own account, they all laughed hysterically. But the soap that was on the market aggravated her infant son’s health problems.

According to Ms. Antonetti: “SoapWorks was born out my baby’s frantic cries for help. My infant son David’s first years of life were mysteriously filled with nonstop screaming, breathing difficulties, and rashes. After countless hospital visits, I turned to homeopathic and alternative doctors for help. They suggested I become my own detective and study David’s environment and symptoms to see what was causing his severe reactions. I kept a detailed daily journal of David’s life, including when and where he reacted, and eventually discovered David’s screams and difficulties were an allergic reaction to the chemicals in everyday cleaning products. The household cleaners from the grocery store shelves were loaded with toxic chemicals! When I tried natural cleaners, David did not react adversely to them, but they were expensive, hard to find, and did not clean very well.

So I started making my own natural soap products. I spent endless hours speaking with Moms, Dads, and people all over, especially those with sensitivities, asking them what kinds of cleaning products they would make for their own home if they could have anything. When I shared my cleaners with friends and neighbors, word spread like wildfire.

That was when I decided to start my own company. I hired a team of top formulators and worked with them to design a line of natural soap-based household cleaners for those who suffer from allergies, asthma, and chemical sensitivities – and for those who want the safest products and the cleanest clean for their families at the best price.”

“We liquidated everything we had to put into this business idea,” says Amilya. “My husband gave up his career. Talk about commitment.”

Indeed, commitment is what it was. And the bigger the task the better. Today, Antonetti’s company SoapWorks has shelf space in 3000 stores and annual revenues in excess of $10 million.


THE LESSON: All strategy begins with commitment to a definite or fully defined objective. With such a commitment as a foundation you can accomplish anything. Without it, you might just as well stay at home.