Ready, steady, quit


April 2015, article published in El Periódico de Catalunya

Ready, steady, quit

Be brave. Come on. Look them in the eyes and say: I’m giving up. I know, it’s opposite to the usual advice, but one can – and sometimes should – do it. Don’t finish all the projects you started. Accept it. This, frankly, is a failure. It turned out badly. So what? Be brave and do yourself a favor. Stop, and be proud of doing so.

I know that it doesn’t look good and they don’t teach us this in business school. Entrepreneurs don’t talk about it. Perseverance is almost always instilled as a necessary virtue and the refrain “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” has become a genuine commandment.

As with everything in life there are nuances. There are shades of giving up, there are tolerable defeats (and unacceptable ones), positive failures (as they say to inventors and scientists), and errors that, properly broken down, allow us to take pieces with us that will lead us to construct success further on.

I know of companies, not exactly small, that are impeccable in their project management. Some even have a PMO (Project Management Office), a kind of project office that handles a company’s initiatives with the precision of a Swiss watch. And believe me, they do it very well. They just have one problem. In the majority of cases, they don’t know how to abandon a project.

This is due to many causes: bosses that resist accepting that things have not turned out well; hyperinflation of ideas; employees afraid that they can’t admit that the initiative has sunk… And instead of burying a project (yes, a dramatic act) we see how these drag on, reborn because they never died and languishing definitively in the throat of the corporation to hide what they are.

One difference between winners and losers is precisely this: that they know which projects should be abandoned. Furthermore, they know how to do it. That is, to a certain extent they allow failure within context. And it’s not a simple task, because failure is a process, it is creating the steps that make giving up more palatable. Thus, just as a boxer can’t throw in the towel and stay in the ring, in a company we must legitimize giving up by creating some rules of the game that allow for a more tolerable defeat, if we can call it that, and allow retreat from the battlefield before it’s too late

I like to talk about the “Wheel of Failure” in the conferences I give. I explain that in innovation, failure is so common that it is advisable to be prepared, having ten concrete steps available and agreed upon by all, to face failure with some guarantee and knowing what to do when failure visits us, because it will, more often than we’d like.

It’s about getting out of a project intelligently. The first and most important thing is to define what is success, and what is failure. The results of my latest research into this may surprise you: two thirds of directors don’t know one from the other.

Are you ready? Ready, steady, quit.

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