The persistent entrepreneur is one of the heroes of modern day business and popular culture. However, if that same person fails after long, arduous effort, we may call him or her obstinate. Why the change in adjective for essentially the same behavior? We tend to think of obstinate people as those who cling to unreasonable or counterproductive goals. However, it’s not always clear when work on a project or idea shifts from being persistent to obstinate. There are myriad factors – from pride to external pressure to ambition – that can cause us to pursue a goal long past it has stopped making sense to do so. To help differentiate the two, we’ve put together five tips for identifying when cut your losses and just let go.
“Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”
— Warren Buffett
If you think about your project or business goal as a boat, are you devoting so much energy to keeping it afloat that you’re missing out on other, larger opportunities? Or consider a different analogy: If time is money, does the cost of your current project prohibit you from investing in other projects that may have a bigger payoff? Consider tracking your time. How much is this particular project or work really costing you? Think about time tracking data as a kind of budget. Are there other, more effective things you could be spending your time and energy on? If so, then it’s probably time to let it go. In today’s rapidly changing business landscape, keeping your business agile is key to staying competitive. Don’t let major opportunities pass you by as you struggle to bail out a sinking ship.
Misalignment with business goals
A project may have begun with a solid vision and the best of intentions. However, all work should be constantly checked for alignment with overarching business goals. Have big picture targets shifted so that a particular project no longer supports them? Holding onto work that makes little to no impact on the business mission is like a swimmer training his baseball swing. Maybe it’s fun, but is it really accomplishing anything?
Progress on a project can stall for a number of completely legitimate reasons, and hitting roadblocks is certainly no reason to give up. But take some time to analyze what the roadblocks mean. If progress is slowing or stalling because the project has moved into uncharted territory, there’s potentially an opportunity for growth as a reward for persistence. On the other hand, if there’s simply nowhere left to go, or the project is simply a bad fit for your company, then there’s no sense throwing good money (or time!) after bad.
Waning Passion & Enthusiasm
Enthusiasm and passion are especially important for entrepreneurs working to establish and expand their business. But they’re also important indicators for anyone leading projects at work. For the entrepreneur, waning passion for a project or idea saps productivity and may be a sign that it’s time to change gears and make room for something that you can really tackle with enthusiasm. For the project leader in a larger company, obvious lack of enthusiasm among employees can be an indicator of other more serious problems with the project, such as poor fit for the company, misaligned goals, and other issues discussed above.
Quitting has little overall business impact
As a counterpoint to negative symptoms like diminishing enthusiasm and stalled progress, it’s also important to weigh the value of projects that aren’t bogging down. The psychological satisfaction of completing a project can obscure the real value of completing it. Follow-through is great, but only when perseverance toward success means contributing substantial value to the business; just because you can complete a project doesn’t always mean you should. Avoid stumbling into obstinacy by taking time to measure the value of success, and reflect on whether it outweighs opportunity costs.