Quitting Is Underrated

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We don’t have to spend much time among our friends or on social media to run across the never-give-up, quitting-is-for-losers, in-it-to win-it ethos. There’s a whole socially acceptable narrative built around the concept that we must keep pushing no matter what. It’s ridiculous. It’s wrong. And it can be harmful.

Perseverance, grit, determination, and hard work are certainly important to achieving our goals, be they in innovation or just about anything worth striving for. But knowing when to stop can be as valuable as getting started in the first place. Knowing when—and having the courage—to quit is exactly what frees us up to go work on the next promising idea. Yes, the struggle is real, but so are opportunity costs.

I worked for a retailer many years ago that had been running a new concept in pilot mode for nearly five years. There were no plans to expand. There were no plans to shut it down. The project was mostly a distraction with no discernible contribution to the enterprise at large, other than we could mention it on earnings calls to earn some innovation points. No one bothered to establish any real metrics around what success looked like, nor was there anything close to go/no go parameters. Because it didn’t look like it was much of a cash drain, no one felt any urgency to do anything. As it was the pet project of two senior executives, there was no pressure to admit defeat.

But that’s exactly what needed to be done, the more it became clear that the opportunity cost (in cash, staff time, and management focus) of keeping it alive was the real problem.

Sometimes killing an idea that the organization has been holding on to for too long is just as radical as generating a new venture. As much as we want to increase our success rate, it’s worth paying attention to our idea kill rate as well.


This is excerpted from Chapter 19 (Essential #8: “Radical”) of my new book Remarkable Retail: How to Win & Keep Customers in the Age of Digital Disruption, available on Amazon and elsewhere.

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