You've probably read or seen several posts this week about how to get things done. This isn't one of those. This post is about why you often shouldn't bother.
That's the message from designer Liz Danzico at this year's Webstock. In her talk, she comes "out of the unfinished-project closet," admitting to quitting everything from a dream project at a major newspaper to the German language, not with shame but with pride. Our culture, she notes, celebrates perseverance and crossing the finish line, but the flip side of this obsession with winning is an underappreciation of the benefits of quitting things. What are they?
1. An antidote to the sunk cost fallacy
If you often persist too long with struggling projects, mediocre jobs, or problematic relationships, you can probably partially blame your parents. Most of us are taught as children to avoid waste, which is clearly sensible when it comes to scarce resources, but it actually encourages what's known as the "sunk cost fallacy" when it comes to your time.
People hate giving up on something they've put their energies into, because it feels like a waste, and waste, as your mother told you when you didn't eat your peas, is bad. But when a project is no longer benefiting you, continuing just so as not to "lose" the time you've already invested is irrational. The project will probably fail anyway after you've invested much more of yourself. Persisting isn't like using the very last of the milk in the carton; it's just throwing your time and energy into a black hole. Why not be quicker to fail and cut your losses sooner?
2. Innovation booster
Being happy to fail isn't just about optimal allocation of your time and energy; it's also about innovation, Danzico points out. Most people have heard that a willingness to fail is key to being innovative, but another way to think about this is that to maximize your creativity, you need to be willing to give up quickly. No need to go all the way to the line and fail with an idea. If you see which way the wind is blowing and that something is likely to fail, just give up. You'll get through more iterations and experiments that way, and more iterations and experiments generally means more innovation.
3. Increased agility
We tend to think of entrepreneurs as never-say-die types who push through any and all obstacles to reach their goals. But this stereotype isn't backed by research, according to Danzico. When you examine successful real-life entrepreneurs, what you find isn't that they overcame the circumstances to reach their vision. More often it's that they changed their vision depending on the circumstances. The best entrepreneurs are willing to quit the path they're on repeatedly in order to course-correct and reach an important goal--just not necessarily the same exact goal they started with.
Danzico calls this approach "more fire, less aim," and likens it to cooking not like a master chef, but instead like a home cook determined to make something tasty out of whatever is in her cupboards and fridge. And once again, being a happy and frequent quitter is essential to this sort of agility.
Curious to hear more about why you should wear the term quitter as a badge of honor? Check out the complete 30-minute talk here.
Is your dislike of quitting really serving your interests?