Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Upside of Quitting

Do you guys like public radio and podcasts? I do. Maybe to an unhealthy degree.

Anyway, this is one of my favorites: Freakonomics: The Upside of Quitting (Part 2: Failure Is Your Friend)

At my office, we have this list of official department agreements (rules) that we came up with in a team-building exercise. They're posted in the conference room and we have all agreed to abide by them. Most of them have to do with communicating better and never assuming the worst about each other's intentions. But one of the rules is a little different from the others. This is the full text: The Past Is the Past.

As a group, we had gotten into a bad habit of blaming our problems on things that happened years ago, people who weren't in the department anymore, policies that were created before our mission changed, "the way we had always done it," etc, etc, etc. What it meant in practice was that every failure or conflict became this stupid contest to see who had known it was going to fail first:

Oh, you pointed out that the presentation would be a disaster a week before you made it? Well, I knew it was a mess all the way back when I wrote it.  -- Oh yeah? Well, I knew it was a bad idea as soon as [manager who is no longer on the team] proposed it last year. -- Wasn't she awful? No wonder people hated it. -- Yep, but she promised [bigwig] we'd show it at least once a month, so it's here to stay.

See what happened there? We all got to feel smug and self-righteous and none of us had to take responsibility or fix the problem. We were living in the past.

The rule has changed the game. We might still discuss the history of a problem, but only so we can give context to the solution. It does not matter how much time or money or resources we have put in to something. If it doesn't work, we stop doing it.

I know that seems obvious, but in the corporate world, this is a major breakthrough.

Cutting your losses can be a smart move; it's not always a sign of weakness.

This ant is lying to you.
And I have to tell you, people are a lot happier with the rule in place. It is gradually killing off all of the "but we've always done that!" activities that waste time and money. It leaves more room for creativity and problem-solving. It forces us to be objective about what's working and what isn't—and to justify our decisions with actual data.

In short, looking forward instead of back is super great for morale. And if that means quitting something when the whole world is just one big "Never Give Up" meme? Well, so be it.


  1. Here ya go:

    1. I love! And I think your new office philosophy is wonderful! I wish that way of thinking could become standard.

  2. Sounds like you've made some real strides forward!